The menstrual hygiene category in India has come leaps and bounds from where it was when Whisper was launched in 1989. Periods was something no one talked about openly and advertising about menstrual hygiene products was unheard of. Since then, Indian women have changed from being almost completely cloth users to about 50% of them (in urban areas) now using pads. And, Whisper has been at the head of the charge to drive this change.
We started off with having a difficult time getting permissions to advertise on prime-time television and then we partnered with Renuka Sahane, the star of the long-running TV series ‘Surabhi’, where she narrated her experience of having found a solution to make her periods much more comfortable. This was 1993. That’s how Whisper became the first brand to show a sanitary pad in a commercial, first to mention the word ‘periods’ in advertising and the first brand to show how the product works in an advertisement.
Over the next 20 years, we focused on two things: awareness and access. We wanted every woman in the country to know the importance of good menstrual hygiene and we launched our school education program where we went to schools across the country to educate young girls on periods and the necessity of hygienic practices. This program is still going strong with 60 lakh girls being educated each year across the country.
We wanted to remove the stigma around sanitary pads and bring them out of the black plastic / brown paper bag environment for which we put the product front-and-center of the retail-environment where actual transactions happen. There are still a lot of people who are uncomfortable handling pads but the advent of modern retail formats have helped in a huge way to tackle this barrier. When we launched, the category was at Rs 34 crores and today it stands at around Rs 3400 crores. This is a testament to the fact how far the Indian markets have come.
With a view to further break the taboo around periods and the superstitions associated with it, we came out with our award-winning campaign ‘Touch the Pickle’. We focused on challenging the myths around periods and sparked a nation-wide conversation around these archaic practices. This campaign also earned India its 1st Grand Prix in the inaugural Glass Lions at the 2015 Cannes Lions. Around 30 Lakh people directly participated in the campaign and we earned around 1200 Million Impressions across different media. You can watch the campaign below.
We continued to stay close to the ground and keeping a check on the trends where we realized that 1 out of 5 girls in the country are dropping out of school when they get their 1st period because they have no prior knowledge about it. To tackle the issue of awareness, to ensure that girls do not drop out of school when they get their periods - and keeping in line with our brand purpose – to unleash women’s & girls’ confidence so they can be whoever they want to be – and P&G’s commitment to gender equality – building a world where everyone is seen equal – we launched our “Keep Girls in School” Program. Through this program, we want to bring to light the fact that 1 in 5 girls are dropping out of school each year and we don’t even notice. To bridge this gap, we reinforced our pledge to double the impact of our existing menstrual hygiene education program by reaching 5 crore girls by 2022.
You can watch the campaign launch video below.
To strengthen our activities, we tied up with UNESCO to touch the lives of 18 million girls and through their assistance get Menstrual Hygiene included as a subject in school curriculums across the country. We also partnered with Network 18 for a “Period of Pride” campaign through which we wanted to normalize conversations around periods and make people aware about the importance of period education in the country. Through the campaign, we created a petition to have MHM education included in school curriculums across the country. We aimed to get a million signatures on the petition, post which we would submit the same to the HRD ministry & request them to action on it.
India has come a long way since Whisper was launched more than 30 years back, but there is still quite an uphill journey left. We have always been and will always continue to be committed to unleashing a girl’s confidence and making her an unstoppable force.