Summer Cramp: Marketing Tampons To The Bunk Set

Summer camp is a classic setting for coming-of-age adolescent adventures: the first unattainable crush on that dreamy Zinc-nosed counselor, the first meaningful bonding that only a shared canoe experience can bring and, for many young female campers, their first period.

The new feminine product delivery service Hello Flo released the video above that has som fun with the “first-period-at-camp” trope. The 1:47 video, which AdWeek named “ad of the day,” stars a former loner camper turned powerfully popular after becoming the first girl at camp to get her period — or the “red patch of courage” as she calls it. Her newfound authority as the militant “Camp Gyno” gets to her head propelling her to divvy out tampons amongst newly menstruating campers like they were cigarettes circulating through jail; she barks at a young cramp sufferer to “suck it up and deal with it; this is your life now.” Though she touts herself as a Joan of Arc among campers, the Camp Gyno can’t compete with Hello Flo’s menstrual supply shipment service timed perfectly with the girls’ cycles. (Indeed, for $16 you get enough regular tampons for a 4-5 day medium flow, a handful of pads, Pantiliners and treats!)

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The video has already accrued close to 80,000 views and is generating a generally positive response. The Huffington Post called it “The Best Tampon Ad in the History of the World” and applauded the video for adopting a realistic look into menstruation — a rarity, it says, in the cannon of ads for feminine hygiene products:

Now we all know that historically, ads for tampons and panty liners have, shall we say, skirted the down and dirty realities of menstruation. I mean, how many of us have seen a tampon ad featuring a woman wearing white pants and decided to put that kind of ill-placed faith in a “feminine hygiene” product? Here’s my guess: zero, thank goodness. And while the ubiquitous “blue liquid” ads at least weren’t as insulting as the “Are You Sure I’ll Still Be a Virgin?” Tampax ads that seemed to run in every issue of Seventeen magazine for my entire adolescence, they were so off-target as to cause confusion

It’s 2013. Way past time we had some funny, delightful ads about tampons in general and the vagaries of impending womanhood in particular.

Desperately Seeking A Tampon? There’s An App For That

For 18-year-old Olenka Polak, the eureka moment came in a Harvard bathroom.

While at the college’s innovation lab attending a recent “start-up scramble” aimed at helping young entrepreneurs develop new ideas, Olenka, a sopohmore, went to the women’s restroom and was pleasantly surprised by a basket full of free tampons. How cool, she thought. But then she wondered: What if there were no free tampons and the vending machine was out of order and you were just plain stuck in “a periodic emergency?”

That’s when Olenka had the flash: “Wouldn’t it be cool to have this community of women on a mobile platform and have this kind of tampon hand-off where you could earn points for donating a tampon to a fellow sister in need?”

With this vision of girl-power camraderie dancing in her head, Olenka returned to the event, raised her hand and pitched her idea: There, Code Red, the mobile tampon app, was born.

The mobile app would allow users to send out a “red alert” if they were stuck in an emergency without a tampon.

A Code Red team including Olenka and two other women — Isha Agarwal and Yogeeta Manglani, both 24-year-old graduate students in global health at Harvard’s School of Public Health — quickly coalesced and started brainstorming. They came up with a simple prototype: a mobile app that would allow women in need to send out a “red alert” that would ping other nearby users who could rush over and delivery a tampon or sanitary pad or share information on where the nearest working tampon vending machine might be. (The machines are usually out of order and in some buildings simply non-existent, said Agarwal, who is also a student at Harvard Medical School.)

The interface the team has developed asks whether a pad or tampon is preferred; respondents can send back a yes or no answer about whether help is on the way. They can also initiate a chat, to say, for example, “class is just wrapping up, I’ll be there in 10 minutes.” The mockup also includes “health bytes,” a running ticker of women’s health stories to read while you’re waiting. The mapping system would track and update users’ GPS locations with each ping.

Security is clearly an issue and the team has proposed an initial launch within the Harvard community to enable a verification system using Harvard ID numbers.

But beyond tampon distribution, the Code Red team hopes to broaden its reach and become a platform for other types of women’s health needs.

For example, the app might include an automatic phone reminder for women to change their tampons in order to cut their risk of toxic shock syndrome. Continue reading

Study Finds Link Between Child Abuse And The Timing Of Menstruation

(Southworth Sailor/flickr)

Might childhood physical and sexual abuse be so profoundly traumatic that it actually disrupts a developing woman’s hormonal system years later?

Based on a new study out of Boston University, it sure looks that way.

Researchers have uncovered a connection between child abuse and disruptions in the timing of menarche, the final phase of puberty, when menstruation begins.

The new findings, published online in The Journal of Adolescent Health, suggest that a woman’s hormonal pathways can be derailed by trauma and stress; and the research underscores the importance of a comprehensive approach to treating abuse survivors in which the severity and specific type of violation is considered.

Renée Boynton-Jarrett, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics at the BU School of Medicine and the study’s lead author, reports a 49 percent increase in risk for early onset menarche (defined here as menstrual periods prior to age 11) among women who reported childhood sexual abuse compared to those who were not abused.

Abuse was also linked to girls getting their first period later than average. The researchers report a 50 percent increase in risk for late onset menarche (menstrual periods after age 15) among women who reported severe physical abuse in childhood. Continue reading

Johnson & Johnson: O.B. Tampons Back On Shelves Within Weeks

The shortage of o.b. tampons may soon be over.

The long, harsh season without o.b. tampons on drugstore shelves may soon come to an end.

Bonnie Jacobs, a spokesperson for Johnson & Johnson, owner of the division that makes the applicator-free tampons, says in an email message: “We expect stores to be restocked in a matter of weeks.”

Ms. Jacobs wouldn’t answer specific questions about the shortage, nor whether there were any safety concerns about o.b.s. She referred to the following statement, printed here in its entirety:

o.b. tampons experienced a temporary supply interruption that has resulted in some stores being out of stock. We are working hard to bring supply back in line with demand, and expect these stores to be restocked soon. We apologize to o.b. customers who may have been inconvenienced.

The Ultra product line was discontinued in late September. There have been no unusual reports of adverse events related to Ultra and the decision to discontinue was not based on any adverse events.

NYT Weighs In On O.B. Tampon Mystery

Missing In Action: o.b. tampons

The Case Of The Disappearing O.B. Tampons continues with The New York Times running a piece on its Prescriptions blog about the stubby, applicator-free tampons missing from store shelves nationwide. (And, while we’re discovering more than we ever cared to about tampons, did anyone else know that a German gynecologist named Dr. Judith Esser named the original product o.b., which stands for “ohne binde” in German: “without napkins?”)

Anyway, since my co-blogger, Carey Goldberg, first wrote about the case last week, comments from frustrated o.b. users continue to deluge our site. “Hell hath no fury like a bunch of menstruating women who can’t find their preferred supplies,” wrote “jerked around in CA.”

The story is not going away until women like “jerked around” get some answers.

The Times did get an answer from Johnson & Johnson (though not a very satisfying one).

Here’s what the company said:

Bonnie Jacobs, a spokeswoman for McNeil [which is owned by J&J] said that the company had discontinued the ultra line but that other o.b. products should be available soon.

“o.b. tampons experienced a temporary supply interruption that has resulted in some stores being out of stock,” Ms. Jacobs wrote in an e-mail message. “We are working hard to bring supply back in line with demand and expect these stores to be restocked soon. We apologize to o.b. customers who may have been inconvenienced.”

Ms. Jacobs did not elaborate on what caused the “temporary supply interruption.”

Prescriptions also posed a series of followup questions to Ms. Jacobs about possible manufacturing problems related to o.b. tampons and whether consumers have raised health concerns (flashbacks to toxic shock syndrome? ) about the now-unavailable tampons.

We’ll let you know when, and if, J&J responds.

O.b. Mystery Deepens: FDA Says No Reports Of Quality Problems

An o.b. stockpile

Latest o.b. update: no quality issues reported, says the FDA:

“We’re not aware of any manufacturing or any quality control issues with o.b. tampons,” said Erica Jefferson, an FDA spokeswoman on medical devices. “If there were any quality issues with the product, the company would need to notify FDA. If there is a shortage of another nature, you’d need to discuss that further with the company.”

Still hoping for a call back from Johnson & Johnson, and will try them again soon. Other calls also in the works.

Here’s what one commenter heard from the consumer line:

They have in the past two months discontinued the “ultra” o.b. tampon. The lack of other o.b. tampons on store shelves is due to “a manufacturer issue with production and packaging.” The product is expected to be back on shelves “sometime in 2011.” So, I queried, that it could be September 2011 or February 2011 or December 2011? I was told that it would probably be Spring 2011.

Meanwhile, this from the friend who put me onto this in the first place:

I e-mailed J&J customer service last week, and they got back to me last
night with this lame form letter, telling me all the places I can buy OB
Tampons. Of course, NONE of these places actually have the product.

Thank you for contacting the Johnson & Johnson Consumer Companies
Information Center. It is always important to hear from our consumers and
we appreciate the time you have taken to contact us. Our tampons are still
being made. However, it is our o.b.® Ultra Absorbency Tampons that has been
discontinued. Please be assured we will share your feedback with our
marketing management.

Johnson & Johnson products are sold at mass merchandisers, grocery stores
and pharmacies. A partial list of the nationwide chain stores in which our
products are sold include Walgreen’s, Longs, Sav-On, Rite-Aid, CVS,
Eckerd’s, Phar Mor, Drug Emporium, Duane Reade, Kroger’s, Safeway, Giant,
Pathmark, Albertson’s, Winn Dixie, Publix, Wegman’s, Brooks, Fred Meyers,
Wal-Mart, K-Mart, Target, Shopko, Shoprite and Meijer’s. You will find that
Johnson & Johnson products are generally shelved together by product
category. If you do not see the product you are seeking, a retailer may
sometimes be able to order it for you. Please note that we do not sell our
products to consumers on a direct basis.

Other alternatives by which you may purchase our products include numerous
mail order and on-line retailers. The following are some recommended
sources: Continue reading

O.b. Update: No Official Word Yet, But Laments Nationwide

An update on the Great Tampon Mystery of the suddenly non-existent o.b.’s (Please see the first post here, and post your comments at the bottom of it so we keep them all in one place):

I called the Johnson & Johnson communications person who handles the o.b. brand again today and left another message. Still no call-back. The FDA spokeswoman on medical devices says she’s still trying to track down the appropriate expert, and will keep us posted as quickly as possible.

That’s it on the official news. But unofficially, there’s been an outpouring of responses to the first post from o.b.-seekers around the country. Several were happy to read official news about the o.b. disappearance because their fruitless searches made them feel somehow that they must be going crazy. (Ah, our tendency to self-blame!!)

Commenters report empty o.b. shelves from upper New York state to Canada to San Diego. One Californian has even put up a Website (it’s here) asking fans of the o.b. Ultra (which has been officially discontinued, unlike the other sizes) to sign a petition and pressure Johnson & Johnson to bring the Ultra back.

This from Canada:

I am from Ottawa, Canada and have noticed the shortage in a number of our stores. Luckily, I live close to a number of small rural towns and was able to wing out to one of their grocery stores and clear out their stock (which was not much!). I ended up with about 70$ in tampons and a decidedly confused cashier.

This from San Diego:

I was wondering what was going on. I’ve been to several different stores and even on Amazon. NO one has any! I’m about to buy them on Ebay if I have to. They are the only thing I use. I tried others and they were awful. I hope this gets sorted out!

This from Washington, DC:

I thought I was slowly going mad, hallucinating that these things once existed after not being able to find them at Target, CVS et al. I blamed it on supply-chain issues, since many shelves in the city are bare compared to the abundance of the suburbs, but I just saw this post on my sidebar and almost dropped my laptop out of shock. Thank you for looking in to this!

This from Colorado:

No OBs in Colorado either. Just a small mountain town grocery store had them. My husband thought three boxes on Ebay (40/box) for $75 may be a good deal. Ha, ha. I checked Alabama while visiting – none there either. I gave up on applicators when they would show up on the Lake Michigan beach shore line (where I am originally from), it’s just gross.

And another from San Diego:

I’m in San Diego and I’m livid! This is the first news coverage I’ve seen about this issue. If it were a viagra shortage, there would be riots in the street. I too have written to Johnson and Johnson. Accroding to blogs, some women are starting a letter writing campaign, buying tampons from England (Lil-lets), and even boycotting Johnson and Johnson. The company really did handle this badly. I’ve never used any other brand but now I’m joining the England contingent.