P&G is among the global marketers that have been pushing the purpose-driven agenda for a while now. In India, the company’s brands such as Ariel and Whisper have been creating purpose-led advertising and launching several marketing initiatives that tie into that higher-order purpose. Menstrual hygiene brand Whisper through its #KeepGirlsInSchool movement has been encouraging conversations that will help in normalising period talk.
To build on this, Leo Burnett India helped Whisper identify ‘The Missing Chapter’, a film to illustrate how a girl’s lack of period education contributes to her missing school days, a situation exacerbated by the glaring absence of period education in Indian textbooks.
The campaign got India its first Grand Prix in the Sustainable Development Goals category at the recently concluded Cannes Lions Festival Of Creativity.
Beyond the film, the brand also looked for 28 art styles specific to the geography of each state and the agency worked with local artists to create custom hand-drawn paintings centred around ‘The Missing Chapter’ on periods. Hyper-localised in 28 different languages, slogans with catchy lines were crafted to bust period myths along with a 3-step visual aid on how to use a pad. These paintings have been put up on school and village walls — a place no girl can miss seeing them.
In a conversation with Storyboard18, Akhil Meshram
, senior director and business head of feminine care, Indian Subcontinent — Procter & Gamble, talks about why the campaign was a success, the results, and how brands can be a force for good and a force for growth.
What according to you made ‘The Missing Chapter’ a winning campaign at a global platform like Cannes Lions?
Before talking about The Missing Chapter, it is important to understand the context around menstrual hygiene in India. Surprisingly, out of a total of 40 crore menstruating women in India, less than 20 percent use sanitary pads. Even in urban areas, this number only goes up to 52 percent — which means, nearly half the women, even in urban India, are still using unhygienic methods of menstrual protection, such as dirty cloth pieces or even rags, husk, newspaper, and mud, amongst many others — all of which lead to a host of health issues.
This begs the question of what it takes to improve this statistic. Awareness and acceptance of the right hygienic practices is the only way to help achieve menstrual hygiene and safeguard women’s health. One challenge to this that was always staring right in our faces, was a missing chapter in the curriculum of our school system across the country.
The way we see it, the campaign film and subsequent outreach sparked a conversation across the country on the need for a specific chapter on menstrual hygiene — in a country where periods are viewed as taboo and rarely spoken above hushed tones. The Missing Chapter was able to get people to think about how long the Chapter will be missing from the curriculum — a Chapter that could help girls be unstoppable even during their period days. The fact that the right stakeholders recognised the gap and questioned it as well was the turning point for the campaign.
With that in mind, we feel the campaign received recognition at a global platform like Cannes Lions simply because it went multiple steps beyond just a campaign film and helped change mindsets right at the grassroots. The wall paintings were an important aspect here to ensure people had a visual aid to relate to their local culture — making the red paper a significant icon for people to link the need for The Missing Chapter in the curriculum.
What does this win mean for the brand Whisper?
Whisper began the journey to normalize menstruation in India more than 25 years ago; at the time the number of women using hygienic sanitary protection was less than 1 crore. Today, this number is 10X that and continues to grow. When we started the #KeepGirlsInSchool movement in 2019, the aim was to normalise the conversation about menstrual health and address how young girls and their families don’t need to look at periods as taboo. This year, we scaled up the movement by introducing The Missing Chapter, which was focused on asking for the mandatory inclusion of period education in the school curriculum.
This win is a testament to our vision of ensuring that 100 percent of all adolescent girls in the country are educated on menstrual hygiene so that no girl is forced to drop out of school due to her period. The recognition we have received just helps us push towards achieving our vision through innovative interventions like raising awareness about The Missing Chapter and attracting attention from the top bodies in India towards this pressing need.
What were the key results of the campaign?
With The Missing Chapter, we wanted to paint the nation red. Till date, this initiative has already reached 30 million people through various touchpoints from the outreach.
This time around for us, it was very important to reach the grassroots and drive this awareness in the most distinct and receptive manner. The wall arts, which replicated the red chapter from the campaign film, were spread across 28 Indian states, incorporating the unique language and art style possessed by each state. We put the chapter on rural school walls, and along school routes, so no girl could possibly miss it.
Along with the campaign, Whisper continues to work towards teaching as many girls as possible about periods, before they can drop out of school. By the end of this year, period education will reach over 80,000 partner schools. Till date, we have educated more than 5.5 crore girls on menstrual hygiene and have pledged to reach an additional 71 lakh girls by the end of this year, which will double our impact in the next two years.
The purpose is at the heart of P&G’s brand narrative. What’s the biggest learning from this strategy?
As P&G, we truly believe that our brands can be a force for good and a force for growth. As a brand, Whisper has always stood against taboos around periods — and that has been at the core of not just our previous campaigns like Touch The Pickle, Sit Improper, and Meri Life Mere Rules, but also in the previous iterations of the #KeepGirlsInSchool movement.
We feel it is important for a brand to stand for something — something that consumers relate to and where we can contribute to improving certain aspects of the socio-economic landscape. Therefore, purpose takes centre stage for us because it is important, that we use our voice to help bring about change that consumers want to see in their life or in society. Our objective at Whisper is to ensure that young girls not only stay in school but work towards achieving their dreams without the limitation of periods.