This week saw an enormous fail for social media marketing, and I like to think I was there at the beginning of it all! The company in question was femfresh and they are a company I have long been waging a very small personal war with. Having worked in and around sexual health pretty much since I qualified I have never met a colleague who would recommend the use of femfresh, in fact when a women is diagnosed with bacterial vaginosis (BV) or thrush one of the first questions is "what do you wash with" and if the answer is femfresh the advice will be to stop using it. It's a fragranced product and while it bangs on about being pH balanced and therefore appropriate for use on your "intimate area" the reality is that is upsets the balance of lactobacilli bacteria that are there to keep your vagina squeaky clean all on their own.
The fact that this stuff is on the market has long been something that irritated me and I was even more pissed off of late by seeing their new adverts around (their website version here), my irritation was partly caused because I hate seeing them spread the word about their noxious product and partly because of the language used, it's so infantile and most people would not use that sort of language over the age of five. Their argument was that women call their vaginas all kinds of things and they were trying to make a light hearted play on that. Now I know that advertisers have to be careful around their use of language but have we become so prudish as a society that we can't cope with the word vagina, which is definitely a word many women use? I suspect not given the barrage of decidedly non prudish images we are exposed to on a daily basis so I suspect the problem goes deeper than that.
My feeling is that femfresh have managed to match up their advertising very well with their companies aims (although I suspect they may not actually realise what their aims are). They want women to be ashamed of themselves and their vaginas. They are creating insecurities and trying to make women believe that their vaginas shouldn't smell of anything, and while they shouldn't smell of anything we can't even use adult language to describe them. They are creating these insecurities so they can create a problem and flog the cure, much as listerine did so many years ago, but unlike listerine which could be considered a fairly benign product, femfresh actually causes the problems it purports to prevent- one of the main symptoms of BV is a fishy smell from the vagina.
Anyway, I was lucky enough to find femfresh's relatively new facebook page which had picked up a number of negative comments around their adverts already, I added to these voicing my own concerns about the ad's language and my general view that their product was crap. This was on thursday and as I wasn't working I left meanderingdaughter pretty much to her own devices and watched the shit storm unfold. The page was gradually attracting more and more women and men voicing their opinions and it was incredible to see. Eventually femfresh changed the cover photo on the page to add the word vagina but it was too little, too late. They posted that they were listening to our feedback and pleaded with posters to keep it clean (because calling your vagina a nooni is celebrating it but calling it a cunt is a step too far) but still the comments kept rolling in. Finally the facebook page and femfreshuk twitter account were removed and it the fun stopped. I suspect the strength of the reaction partly came off the back of the broohaha caused by a politician in the USA using the word vagina in the Michigan House of Representatives.
Names for your genitalia, be you man or woman, is a tricky one. As a nurse I would never use a euphemism while talking to a patient but I love the fact that our language is rich enough to provide us with so many different names and through all this I have learnt a fair few more. I've even found an advertising campaign that has a very similar brief to the femfresh one but does it so much better, in fact, it's inspired! I give you the mooncup Love Love Love Your Vagina song!
I think the reason this one works so much better is not just because it actually uses the word vagina but it's a bit naughty, it's grown up and it doesn't talk down to it's customers. And obviously the fact that mooncups are a very useful and positive product which don't cause infections.
So there you go. Embrace your vagina and its beautiful natural fragrance, call it whatever you want, wash it with water and aqueous cream if you want to use a cleanser and treat it to a mooncup.