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Season 5: Marketing the Unpleasant

Airs Saturday Feb. 19th and Thursday Feb. 24th This week on the Age of Persuasion, we feature an encore presentation of "Marketing the Unpleasant."

It's a look at how the advertising industry markets those very "delicate" products in our lives; like itch creams, laxatives, yeast infection remedies, feminine hygiene goods, and the granddaddy of them all - death. Collectively, they represent one of the toughest categories in the advertising business, because these products address the intensely personal issues in our lives. Issues we don't share with anybody, except the marketers who provide relief. All of which doesn't make it an easy category to work on, just a very interesting one. Hope you'll join us. And nice to see your rash is clearing up.

Listen to this episode as streaming audio (runs 26:30) Or subscribe to the podcasts by RSS or by iTunes.

All of the TV commercials and print elements we referred to in the episode, as well as some bonus materials, are below. Enjoy.

One of the toughest categories in the advertising world is personal care products - and in particular - the products that address the intensely personal issues in our lives.

Like jock-itch creams, laxatives, rash ointments, yeast infection remedies, feminine hygiene goods and douches. Yet, because this is a multi-million dollar category, advertisers and their ad agencies take it all very seriously.

What follows are the TV spots and print ads that we referred to in our "Marketing the Unpleasant" episode, along with a few interesting extra bonus commercials.

First, we talked about how AIDS advertising was initially an awkward assignment in ad agencies, but as time went on, AIDS/HIV became a more accepted topic, and advertising embraced the challenge of communicating the issues.

We played an interesting radio campaign from Israel, called "Doubt" where they ran the same radio commercial on every station in the country at the very same time one morning, so you couldn't escape it.

And that was the idea - that "doubt" never leaves you if you've had unprotected sex. Here is a TV commercial from that same campaign that ran on International Aids Day in Israel in 2008:


These spots aired on one day only, and the number of visitors to the AIDS taskforce website increased by 56%, and HIV testing increased by 41%, making December 2008 the highest HIV test period ever in Israel.

Selling death is a touchy subject. Wal-Mart started quietly offering caskets and funeral-related items on their website about 18 months ago. So not only can you "Live Affordably" but you can now "Die Cheaply."

Walmart Coffin Page.png

We also played a somewhat surprising commercial for the Golden Gate Funeral Home. Here it is:

The problem with marketing private, personal products is to make the on-camera dialogue seem natural. Not much dialogue usually happens in real life around these issues, so manufacturing it is always dicey. Here's a typical commercial in this category trying to sound natural:

As you heard in the episode, selling menstrual products has been a part of Madison Avenue for almost 100 years. Here is the way sanitary napkins - or rather, towels - were first advertised back in the 1920s:

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None other than Walt Disney produced a film in 1946 to explain menstruation to young women, titled "The Story of Menstruation." Note that all the credits are male:

Many people think most menstrual commercials are written by men - which is not true. The one campaign most cited when this charge is made is the "Have a happy period" from Always:

Viagra broke new ground in this delicate personal products category. With itch creams, laxatives, wart removers and yeast infection remedies, the most they could promise was relief.

But Viagra had a much more motivating benefit - sex. Canadian pharmaceutical regulations prohibited Viagra from saying what the drug actually does in commercials (same goes for all prescribed medications) but Viagra's ad agency didn't let that small detail stop them.

They embraced they couldn't say what Viagra did, and created amazing work. Here's the launch commercial:

Viagra has had a long history of great ads. Here's one of my favourites, called "Golfer":

It was AIDS/HIV advertising that first opened the conservative broadcasting doors, and helped the general public become more accepting of condom commercials. Here's a very funny Durex Condom spot:

Here's a bonus spot we didn't have time for on the show - it's a very daring, highly conceptual, highly creative condom commercial that made a little noise:

The "personal" care category is one that rarely uses celebrities, because it's difficult to find a star who is willing to talk about their, say, constipation. Of course, that didn't stop Wilt Chamberlain's mother from talking about it:

That's the thing with marketing the unpleasant - you can always count on your Mom to tell it like it is.