Ad watchdog rules on Carefree's 'Vagina' ad

By By Alexandra Roach | 30 July 2012

After 100 formal complaints and extensive media coverage, the ad watchdog has made its ruling on 303Lowe's 'vagina' ad for feminine hygiene brand Carefree.

Despite the compaints, the Advertising Standards Bureau (ASB) determined the ad acceptable for television.

Part of the 'Know Your Body' campaign, the ad features a young woman, naked expect for the artfully-placed floral arrangement in front of her telling the viewers that women's bodies are “amazing”. She explains that the discharge women's experience between period's is “our body working to keep the vagina healthy” and how Carefree's acti-fresh panty liners can help you feel more comfortable.

The use of the word “vagina” in the ad – which appeared on free-to-air and pay TV, as well as online – created a furore, with the ASB fielding more than 100 complaints from the public.

A complainant stated the advertiser was engaging in “typical shock tactics” and others argued the ad was “absurd”, “distasteful”, “inappropriate” for children and should be “withdrawn immediately” from the airwaves.

“I don't believe that the word 'vagina' should be used so freely in any commercial of that nature where young children could be listening,” wrote one complainant.” As a male, I find it highly disgusting that they mention any fact at all about the discharge between periods on national television.”

Another complainant wrote: “I was eating dinner and the referral of 'vaginal discharge' made me want to vomit.”

The ad was also accused of providing “way too much information” into “secret women's business” that men should not be privvy to lest they “[start] thinking all women walk around with discharge problems”.

“I do not think it is necessary to use the word vagina and to discuss discharge,” wrote another complainant. “I don't want this personal information in my face while I am trying to relax and enjoy television. Why on earth would we need to have an advertisement about women's discharge? Very distasteful.”

The product's manufacturer, Johnson & Johnson (J&J), stated the ad had received a PG rating in Australia and was able to be broadcast at times when children were watching.

“It appears that some of the complainants are embarrassed by use of the correct terminology for a woman's body and its natural bodily functions, however we submit that fails to establish that we are in breach of [the] Code,” wrote J&J. “The advertisement addresses vaginal discharge. Vaginal discharge is normal – it is the female body's natural way to help keep the vagina clean and healthy which all women experience in varying degrees from puberty to menopause.”

J&J stated the decision to use the words “vagina” and “discharge” had been a result of research which showed women want to hear advertisers use “the correct anatomical names” for their genitalia, rather than in “diminutive or euphemistic terms”.

J&J also considered the campaign to have been very successful. “Our Consumer Care Center has also received an overwhelming number of positive responses to the TVC with 81 compliments as at Monday 23 July,” said J&J. “Since our campaign launch on Sunday 15 July we have also received over 14,000 sample requests in the first 7 days since the Advertisement aired. That is an exceptional result and indicates the interest that women have in this topic and this product.”

Despite “some members of the community [being] uncomfortable” with the use of the word 'vagina', the ASB ruled it as appropriate for the ad as it is “the correct anatomical name for the part of the woman's body that the advertisement is concerned with”.

The complaints were dismissed and the ad continues to air unaltered.

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