Vaginas: the center of civilization? Summer’s Eve sure thinks so.

“What you’re about to see, you cannot un-see.” That cryptic warning was the intro of Stephen Colbert’s hilarious reaction to the Summer’s Eve “Hail to the V” commericals – Thanks for sharing, Jenny!

If you don’t know the commercials to which I’m referring, you’re either (A) a dude, (B) someone with a TV fast-foward button, or (C) someone who was so horrified that they’ve blocked them out as a psychological defence mechinism.

For whatever reason, if you haven’t seen these borderline racist vaginal cleansing ads (which have since been removed from YouTube), you may want to check them out before reading on.

These ads were the subject of a discussion we had in my Strategic PR course last week. Luckily, the class is comprised of about 8 women, so we were able to open up about the subject of feminine hygeine more freely. But even with our college-educated, forward-thinking XX chromosomes, we were still cringing while watching these ads.

One student noted that they designed these ads to be purposely controversial in order to stir up product recognition. But just because people were (and still are) talking about these ads, are women actually going out and buying the products?  And how did the audacious Summer’s Eve ads differ from other ladybit-related ads, like the U by Kotex ad that mocked the ridiculousness of past tampon ads?

In my opinion, in order to run a successful campaign centered on controversy, you have to:

1. Know your product.

I get where they were coming from. Angela Bryant, marketing director for Summer’s Eve, defended the ads by saying:

The whole category has been talking to women the same way since feminine hygiene products have been in the marketplace, and ironically, many media outlets won’t even allow the use of the word ‘vagina’ in advertising. We are way past-due for a change.

They were trying to make a point. Pave a path. Habituate the word “vagina” in the American advertising vernacular. I get it. But the problem remains that vaginal cleansing products are still a bit taboo. And by using a simulated vagina puppet – as Colbert called it – in your advertsing, in conjunction with racial stereotypes, you’re pretty much betting on the fact that you’re going to offend people. I consider myself a modern woman, and I was offended by these ads.

2. Know your audience.

I think our class unanimously agreed that had these commercials been targeted at the opposite sex for a hygenic product for men, the reaction would have been much different. Someone brought up the Axe “Wash Your Balls” commercial that received a much different audience reaction. And while this may upset the feminists of the world, I have to admit that America may not be quite ready for in-your-face vagina commercials just yet. One of my female professors was actually in the room at The Richards Group when these ads were pitched to Stan, so I’ll have to get her take on the matter. That will be the subject for a later post.

3. Know that controversy tends to work better for cause awareness, rather than selling products.

In my opinion, controversy tends to work better in advertising when it’s tied to a cause. You may remember the “This is Your Brain on Drugs” commercial from Partership for a Drug Free America in the 1990s or any of the Truth anti-smoking ads. I believe these are examples of when controversy is essential for making a point, changing attitutes, and promoting action. Feminine hygeine, on the other hand, is already an uncomfortable and private subject for most women. I’m not sure this tactic was appropriate for such a subject.

That’s just my two little cents on the issue, but I’d like to know what you think.What other controversial ads have you found to be most successful? Do you think there’s a double standard when it comes to personal hygeine advertisements? Is that okay? And finally, do you think America is ready for vagina hand-puppets?

Happy Blogging,

Katy Hartwick

2 Responses to “Vaginas: the center of civilization? Summer’s Eve sure thinks so.”
  1. Great post, Katy. I wish all my students used links and sources as well as you have in this blog. It's a very thought-provoking piece, and entertaining too!I do believe there is a double standard when it comes to hygiene products. That's a part of our lives that arguably should be kept private. And one of my undergraduates, commenting on the Hail to the V commercial (, said she found it offensive that they felt wars were fought and civilizations conquered for the vagina. Maybe it's advertising allegory, but I too found the premise rather stupid. I have to wonder if they made these ads controversial on purpose. If we were using AVE for measurement, I'm sure the value of the publicity they got (bad and good) was in the millions of dollars. Here we are, months later, still talking about the ads. But when I walk down that aisle at Drug Emporium I don't see a product I want to buy, I see a hand puppet with a bad accent.

    • Thank you! You’re completely right. Every time I see a Summer’s Eve product now, all I can picture are those ads. Then, all of a sudden I’m uncomfortable. Dr. Broyles said we should talk about this, because apparently she has a much different take on the subject than you and Tracy. I wish I could have seen Stan’s face as they were pitching this to him!

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