How Whisper sent a loud message via ‘Touch the Pickle’

29 Jun,2015

 

Whisper’s curiously-titled but hard-hitting campaign was awarded the Grand Prix in the newly-created Glass Lion category at Cannes Lions this year. The awards went to creative agency BBDO India. Spokespersons from the brand’s parent company, Procter & Gamble, responded to questions from Dyanne Coelho on why the movement, which aims to eradicate the taboos and age-old myths around menstruation, received an overwhelming response both at the international festival as well as back in India.

 

How did the idea behind Whisper’s ‘Touch the Pickle’ campaign come about?

Whisper’s brand purpose is to advocate for, and empower, women, to reach their fullest potential. The Touch the Pickle movement was conceived when we realised that a majority of Indian women feel restricted from achieving their dreams because of irrational taboos around menstruation. We believe women should not feel restricted on their period days, and an overwhelming number of women across the country responded to our campaign with their own stories of breaking taboos. A survey by market research firm Ipsos on understanding these taboos revealed that among urban women, 59 per cent still don’t touch pickle, and more than half prefer not to venture out of their homes, during their periods. In light of these findings, Whisper embarked upon the journey to launch a nationwide movement — across not just TV but also PR and digital. ‘Touch the Pickle’ was one of the most irrational taboos and was an apt metaphor for all the other irrational taboos that hold women back.

 

Many argue that these so-called taboos have been passed down over years because they are healthy practices women should adhere to, during menstruation. And that it is only now that these practices are being labelled taboos. How would you respond to that?

There are two kinds of taboos that Indian women follow. Irrational taboos, like not washing their hair, not touching the pickle, sleeping in areas away from the house, have no relevance to menstruation today and are age-old myths imposed by families that considered periods as impure. The other set, like not wearing whites, not leaving the house and not exercising, started at a time when good sanitary protection did not exist and women had to use cloth, rags or even sand or ash during periods. Today, when there is superior technology in terms of sanitary pads, women shouldn’t worry about following such unreasonable practices. About 99 per cent of gynaecologists believe sanitary napkins are the best form of protection during menstruation as per a national study by the Feminine and Infant Hygiene Association and Ipsos. In the 21st century, when there is a solution, there is no need for women to restrict themselves.

 

Was the impact to the campaign different in Tier II and III cities from the metros?

An eyeopener for us during the research conducted by Ipsos is that even in urban towns, most of these taboos are still observed. For example, 65 per cent of women from urban India perceive periods as an obstacle in achieving their full potential and some 54 per cent are not allowed to water plants at this time. Our focus has been to drive awareness of the irrelevance of these taboos and encourage consumers to help change the social behaviour and gender inequality that restricts them. We’ve done this in different ways via TV, PR and digital, but we’ve also focused on educating young women and their communities on menstrual hygiene. We’ve also pledged to educate 15 million girls by 2017 on menstrual hygiene, and saw this impact in the sudden surge of conversations, discussions and debates women across India were having around menstruation, where many of them were questioning the myths that were holding them back.

 

The campaign received positive publicity elsewhere in the world, more than in India. What do you think the reason for that is?

Touch the Pickle was an integrated movement not restricted only to television. Women Achievers like Aditi Gupta (founder of Menstrupedia), Ishita Malviya (India’s first female surfer), Nungshi and Tashi (the first twins to scale Mt Everest), anthropologist Suneela Garg and film personalities like Parineeti Chopra, Kalki Koechlin and Shradha Kapoor, all came together to support this movement to eradicate taboos. The winds of change are blowing through India and the world, and insights regarding taboos around menstruation resonated with global audiences because taboos related to periods are not an Indian phenomenon only.

 

There are some who believe that while this campaign had a positive impact on many in India, it also paints a socially-regressive view of our society, when that is not the case.

Although 65 per cent of Indian urban women observed these taboos, 82 per cent wanted to break free of them. Interestingly observing irrational taboos is not just an Indian thing. Across the world, women hide their sanitary pads. You will find it heartening to know that in the last year, a surge of Indian women have expressed how normal menstruation is, and how important it is to eradicate these taboos — whether it is the Jamia Millia university [campaign], the Rupi Kaur Instagram incident or even the Menstrupedia comic (which we partnered with) which educates women on menstruation. This means Indian women are empowered and unstoppable in leading this movement.

 

Has the campaign resulted in a growth in sales for Whisper? If so, by how much?

Touch the Pickle was an integrated movement across touchpoints, including PR, TV and digital, where the central idea was the consumers’ need to be empowered and lead this change. Consumers rewarded us by choosing Whisper, and we have seen our business grow in the last year.

 

After the overwhelming response it got, are you thinking of running the campaign again?

We are thankful to Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity and Lean In for instituting this much-deserved award category, the Glass Lion, and awarding us a Grand Prix. We have our partner agencies BBDO, Madison PR, Mediacom, Quasar and Encompass to thank. This is an important movement and we’ll continue to stand for empowering women.

 

 

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