U by Kotex: A successful social media campaign

31 Aug

In an interview last week, I was asked what I thought the best example of a successful social media campaign is. I am absolutely obsessed with U by Kotex’s Break the Cycle campaign. In fact, I authored a 50-page paper that compared U to Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty. So, here is why I think the Break the Cycle campaign is a great example of a successful use of social media.

In 2010, Kotex set out on a mission: to find out what women thought about their periods, and more generally, about women’s vaginal health. Menstruation consumer goods have always been advertised as a secret topic veiled in shame and taboo. So, what did women really think? Kotex believes that women’s health concerns need to be addressed, and that vaginal health needs to join the conversation. Due to the embarrassment around period talk, society restricts women’s dialogue and inhibits their ability to share information. Kotex addresses the belief that if women have a chance to openly discuss menstruation, gynecological cancers, sexually transmitted infections, and other vagina-related health issues, women can prevent “painful, damaging, and sometimes life-threatening” vagina concerns.[1]

So, Kotex decided to shake things up. They polled 1,600 North American women aged 14-35 about vaginal health in the hopes of “breaking the cycle” of shame. What they found is that “most women are equally ready to shake things up!”[2] The brand wanted to start a movement to break the cycle, and they had women ready to support and engage with them. Kotex created a new product line called “U by Kotex.” They aimed to find the misconceptions about feminine care products and women’s vaginal health, and how they could steer those conversations to get girls the information they needed. Furthermore, they found that women who were knowledgeable about their vaginal health “are also more likely to have a positive body image, as well as a higher level of self-confidence and ability to express themselves.”[3] Not only would this campaign give girls a platform to learn and speak about their periods, but it would also serve as a catalyst for change in women’s confidence and images of themselves. U by Kotex “encourage[s] women to think positively, talk openly, and take control of their vaginal health.”[4] This is not just about menstruation. This is about empowering girls and women by “taking control of the conversation” and “overcoming outdated ideologies.”[5]

In order to “break the cycle” of shame, Kotex created not only a new product, but also a new flashy interactive website (and arguably a new movement). On their website, under the heading “Why We’re Doing This,” Kotex asserts that it is “time to stop all the weirdness about periods, don’t you think…every comment made and every question asked helps change unhealthy attitudes”[6] The website is a platform for girls and women to discuss their vaginal health, ask questions, gain information, and watch videos about the absurdity of feminine hygiene advertising.

The three ways girls can participate in the website are by challenging the norm, schooling themselves, and taking better care of themselves.[7] Under the heading “Break the Cycle,” girls can sign a “Declaration of Real Talk” that liberates women to “celebrate my body,” “respect my vagina,” “challenge society,” “talk openly,” and “take good care of myself.”[8] Additionally, for every girl that signs the declaration, Kotex donates $1 towards Girls for a Change, a non-profit that empowers girls by pairing them with professional women and then encouraging social change by stepping up and finding their voice.[9] At the beginning of April, 16,952 girls and women had signed the declaration and 2,669,267 girls and women are helping to Break the Cycle by commenting on the website, sharing links, asking questions, commenting on forums, creating new designs, and getting free samples.[10] The website also offers an “advocacy panel” of doctors, experts, students, and writers. The appeal of the campaign is generational; the website is clearly aimed at young girls who may be more willing to talk.

The website has played an integral role in the campaign for a few reasons. It is a place where girls can ask questions, interact with other girls and women, and become comfortable with vaginal health and menstruation. They are the ones leading the conversation! The Internet gives girls a chance to express themselves without judgment. Even more importantly, Kotex raised issues and questions, and then let girls drive the campaign themselves. They have made the consumers their advocates and have “empower[ed] them to address the community.”[11] Consultant Adam Metz agrees, pointing out, “the customers’ ability to control the conversation regarding how businesses market to them” is vital to any social cause campaign.[12]

Viral Videos


Mother and Daughter

Help me Choose – Social Experiment

Buy Me Tampons – Social Experiment

Kotex also created a website specifically geared towards helping girls get through their first period.

Hello Period

[1] Nancy Redd, et al., “Break the Cycle: A Study on Vaginal Health,”

< http://www.ubykotex.com/the_mission/why>

[2] Break the Cycle: A Study on Vaginal Health

[3] Break the Cycle: A Study on Vaginal Health

[4] Break the Cycle: A Study on Vaginal Health

[5] Break the Cycle: A Study on Vaginal Health

[6] Break the Cycle: A Study on Vaginal Health

[11] Marita Scarfi and Andrew Meurer, “Breaking Down Taboos: Education, Authenticity and Digital Demystify Tricky Subjects while Engaging Consumers,” AdWeek (Sept 7, 2010) < http://www.adweek.com/news/advertising-branding/breaking-down-taboos-103214>

[12] Juan Martinez, “What is Going on Down There?” CRM Magazine (Jun 2010), EBSCO

2 Responses to “U by Kotex: A successful social media campaign”

  1. Jane December 8, 2011 at 11:23 am #

    How does Kotex go from “Breaking the Cycle” to running an ad with the tagline, “All of the protection, none of the shame??” I’m totally boycotting Kotex now. How awful of them to champion women and their vaginas, then turn around and tell them to be ashamed!!

    • mjapoth December 12, 2011 at 9:08 pm #

      Hi Jane,
      You are absolutely right – a fundamental problem with feminine hygiene products is that they make women feel like having their period is a dirty and disgusting thing and that they (we?) must hide it. So, yes, it is completely wrong that Kotex is now touting that line of shame. However, I do still think that they are far ahead of what the other tampon companies are doing. They have at least started a dialogue, and are making more and more women and even some men aware of the lies in feminine hygiene advertising. So, I’m not saying that you should buy Kotex products, but honestly, if you are going to boycott them for using the “shame” card, then you are going to have to boycott all of them. How do you decide which company to buy from? How can you truly know how genuine they are?

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