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Kotex Gives Its Consumers What They Want: A Frank Discussion on Periods

Sarah Steimer

Billions of people have periods, but it took until very recently for feminine hygiene brands to balk at hidden meanings and talk straight with customers

The feminine hygiene aisle is a sea of monotony. It’s awash with light blues, purples and pinks, repeating choruses of “light, regular, heavy.” Consumers don’t browse or linger here, they grab and go.

Kimberly-Clark decided to change that experience seven years ago when it launched its U by Kotex brand. Not only has the packaging itself changed, creating a ripple on store shelves, but the way the brand talks to consumers has shifted. As in, it actually acknowledges and openly speaks to its customers about their periods. It’s no longer about absorbency demos and carefree women leaping in white pants; U by Kotex launched with a call to “Break the Cycle”and end period stereotypes in advertising and elsewhere. The release of the new products came with a statement from Kimberly-Clark in which the brand said advertisers “have been perpetuating this cultural stigma by emphasizing that the best menstrual period is one that is ignored.”

Kimberly-Clark has a pretty decent grasp on advertising period products, having been in the feminine hygiene market since 1920. The first magazine ad series for Kotex appeared in 1921 and was created by Kotex marketing head Wallace Meyer. The first draft actually featured mostly men and one woman, but was changed to include only one man and three women, with copy that nodded to science and World War I, where nurses began using wound dressings as sanitary napkins. The text never actually used the phrase “sanitary napkins,” and readers were left to guess what the “new use” of the product meant, thus ushering in the era of vague references to the menstrual cycle in advertising.

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Sarah Steimer

Sarah Steimer is a staff writer for the AMA's magazines and e-newsletters. She may be reached at ssteimer@ama.org or on Twitter at @sarah_steimer.