I'm praying none of my friends outside the advertising business will read this column. It's difficult enough convincing them I have a serious job. 'How can a grown man write about ads for baked beans and soap powder,' they say. To which the answer is: quite easily, especially if you have a hungry family to feed.
This week, however, I venture into the uncharted waters of sanitary protection advertising. It's not that I'm squeamish, it's just that...well, when you join Campaign you never imagine the day you'll be turning out 700 words on the subject. Still, it could be worse. I only write about them; I don't do them.
Let us not prejudge matters though. The ad in question is by D'Arcy for Alldays pantyliners. It features a woman who gets frisky with her lover and then, just as they get to stripping-off time, discovers - shock horror - she's wearing the 'wrong' pantyliners (ie. an X-rated version of The Wrong Trousers).
Now I bet you didn't know there was such a thing as the 'wrong' pantyliners.
But there is, at least if you're wearing black knickers because, of course, pantyliners are white which means that you get showthrough. Now I don't know much about pantyliners, but I know a lot about 'showthrough', that being a magazine publishing term. Imagine you're reading this page and you can see whatever's printed on the reverse: that's showthrough. Anyway, the reason we can see the woman's wearing the 'wrong' pantyliners is because she's got ultra-violet lighting in her apartment and so her white pantyliners look like dayglo. Apparently, a woman's worst nightmare is to have her partner see her wearing a pantyliner; and I thought a woman's worst nightmare was when her partner strips off and he's wearing Wallace and Gromit Y-fronts, a string vest and a French tickler. The way I see it, if you're stupid enough to install UV lighting in your apartment, you deserve everything you get.
But where is all this going, I hear you ask. Well, the point of the ad is to introduce Alldays Black, the first black pantyliner: a world first, no less, and you read it here.
This ad, nonetheless, deserves serious consideration because it breaks some new ground. First, because rarely among sanpro ads - and even rarer for a Procter & Gamble brand - there is not a single mention of any product benefit other than the colour. No patronising talk about absorption rates, no talk about 'wings', no funny blue goo tests and no women being athletic in white trousers. That's brave. Freed of this tradition, Alldays is thus able to market its pantyliners as a fashion item. The conventional among us may be appalled by this idea, but why not? If computers (eg. the i-Mac) and mobile phones can be a lifestyle accessory, what's wrong with pantyliners?
This is where we move up another level of interest. What P&G is trying to achieve is a step-change in consumption patterns of pantyliners. Instead of just wearing them around their periods, P&G wants to encourage women to wear them as an aid to cleanliness and freshness. If it works, this would remove the danger of cannibalisation, whereby women just buy black ones instead of white ones. It's certainly a critical step for the brand, which has gone static in sales terms in the past few years.
As for the colour issue, white may equal cleanliness, but it is also seen as clinical and therefore linked to periods. Black is at worst neutral, at best associated with freedom and desire. Why else is black underwear considered raunchy? Indeed, it surely cannot be long before the Vogue fashionistas have a new slogan: 'Pantyliners are the new black.'
Dead cert for a Pencil? Only in the bravery section.
Will it work? Why not? It's an intriguing idea.
What would the chairman's wife say? P&G wives never comment.