Can a high-profile campaign encouraging women to 'love their vaginas' take this green sanitary product into the mainstream?
Hopping off the Tube the other day, one of the posters caught my eye. This is no mean feat given that on a typical 45-minute London commute we're exposed to around 130 different adverts. And we're all increasingly talented at subconsciously filtering out these uninvited intrusions.
The striking image that had grabbed my attention featured a brightly coloured floral triangle emblazoned with the legend "Lady Garden", beneath which a web address implored me to "loveyourvagina". Maybe that was what had caught my eye.
Now clearly this advert wasn't aimed at me. Yet, curiosity sparked, back in the office a few minutes later I was Googling the ad. I was pleasantly surprised to discover the poster was part of a Mooncup promotion. These rubber menstrual cup devices first appeared in the 1930s according to the Canadian team behind Diva Cup. The benefits of Mooncups are well documented. They're safer (significantly reduced risk of toxic shock syndrome), cheaper (the sanitary product market in the EU is worth an annual £2.5bn), and much better for the environment (around 40,000 tonnes of sanitary product are used in the UK each year and Beachwatch surveys still find an average of 14 sanitary items per kilometre). But they are used in the UK by only 1% of the female population. So clearly a little persuasive communication wouldn't go amiss.
Futerra, the sustainability communications company that I co-direct, has taken our Earthly Sins confessional booth to the Green Fields at Glastonbury on several occasions, and each time we've been pitched up next to the lovely ladies from the Women's Environmental Network. As a result I am intimately familiar with the sight of washing lines of Mooncups and Lunapanties dangling gently in the Somerset sunshine. But engaging inquisitive or slightly spangled festival punters on the merits of these products is one thing. Taking a high-profile poster campaign onto the London Underground is very much another.
So there are two reasons why I love this. Firstly I used to joke in the early Noughties that communicating climate change to the public was like selling Tampax to men. We blokes saw the adverts of women dressed entirely in figure-hugging white outfits rollerskating along California beach fronts, but we knew they weren't directed at us so we ignored them. The need to make informed decisions on the purchase of sanitary products is most definitely not "front of mind" for men.
Similarly, early attempts at presenting the challenge of climate change came up against this same "front of mind" dilemma. Ten years ago, while most of us had heard of global warming, climate change and its implications certainly weren't at the front of our minds.
We were, like men and tampons, convinced it had little to do with us. But that's where the similarity ends, because while blokes can perhaps justifiably dismiss sanitary products as "women's things", we can't collectively dismiss climate change as being something that only
environmentalists worry about.
Since then the creeping reality of the accumulating scientific evidence, coupled with the notion that action for a safer climate might actually present enormous opportunities, have combined to make the challenge more personal, relevant and urgent. We may not quite be willing yet to actually do what's required, but we are increasingly aware, climate change being much more "front of mind", that something must be done. And fast.
Secondly, the Mooncup campaign takes an environmental product from the eco-ghetto realms of receptive, environmentally minded festival goers and pushes it artfully into the mainstream. Its more 'hip' than 'hippy' and its deeply held ethical
convictions are worn lightly. Its "What do you call yours?" online poll and call to action has clearly gone viral, with suggestions ranging from the cute ("Choupinette"), and the willfully obtuse ("Perlimpimpin le magicien") to more crass suggestions. So it wins on smart, genuinely "discussable and shareable" social media content too.
Ultimately though it's a great communications campaign, embodying two key principles of effective engagement – making an issue "front of mind" and aiming for mass appeal. Many environmental and sustainability campaigners could learn a lot. Let's hope their bold approach leads to actual behaviour change and takes Mooncup usage beyond that minority 1% of women. Finally having been unexpectedly fished-in by such a campaign I now also find myself drawn to this advert … which is obviously about gardening, right?
• Ed Gillespie is the co-founder of Futerra Sustainability Communications