Art imitating life: Funky new ad puts a spin on personal hygiene and politics

Published: December 16, 2010

The ad agency behind the work, RG Blue, says it has received a good response so far. PHOTO: COURTESY RG BLUE

KARACHI: Advertisements for sanitary pads are known for a lot of things — including elaborate phrases about wings, comfort and wearing white clothes without looking over your shoulder — but rarely for a sense of humour.

That changed this week, when residents of Karachi started hearing about a billboard for the Butterfly brand with the tongue-in-cheek slogan: ‘WikiLeaks… Butterfly doesn’t’.

A photograph of the billboard has gone viral on the internet and has been posted by numerous people on Facebook, Twitter and blogs.

The whistleblower website WikiLeaks’ release of thousands of confidential US embassy documents have made it a household name worldwide but this may be the first time it has been ‘literally’ referenced in an advertisement.

The agency behind the campaign, RG Blue Communications, says that it has “received a very good response” to the billboards. Amjad Hussain, the head of business development, laughingly told The Express Tribune, “Nobody has said it’s in bad taste yet!”

According to Hussain, Butterfly was a new client that had recently come on board. They loved the idea when it was pitched to them and so the campaign rolled out very quickly.

Munir Bhatti, the agency’s art director, says he has been inundated with phone calls about the ad. “I could have also shown a girl like other ads have. But the idea was to make it very different and to use the word WikiLeaks — and that’s what this is.”

Hussain says it has only been a couple of days since the billboards went up and the print campaign is set to roll out soon. “There are a couple of billboards; one is near the Expressway and the other is in Hyderi. There will be one in Karsaz next week.” So far the campaign is limited to Karachi.

Political messaging or references to news topics may not be a part of most advertising campaigns, but an exception has been the billboards for the Nando’s chain of restaurants in Karachi. Residents have discussed, photographed and blogged about their ads, which have poked fun at everything from the Clifton underpass being flooded during the 2006 rains (Why didn’t the chicken take the underpass? It couldn’t swim like a duck!), President Zardari’s infamous meeting with Sarah Palin (What did the Peri-sident say to the Peri Peri chick? You’re gorgeous! Can I hug you?) and Shoaib Malik’s marriage to Sania Mirza (Shoaib, why go to your neighbours when you can get hot chicks at Nando’s).

According to Saima Zaidi, whose book Mazaar, Bazaar: Design and Visual Culture in Pakistan looks at the evolution of advertising over the decades, “Advertising may not only be about ‘manufacturing’ a desire but also about giving it visibility. The more access to information we have, the more it is going to play into advertising.  When it comes to current affairs in advertising, at the end of the day it is about striking a chord — which is not a novel concept in itself!”

Published in The Express Tribune, December 16th, 2010.

Reader Comments (52)

  • Annonymous
    Dec 16, 2010 - 11:58AM

    I would like to be the exception here and state that I have found the ad in extremely bad taste..I saw the ad together with three of my friends on Karsaz road and all four of us thought it was a very cheap shot at humor…the sensitivities of female target market have perhaps not been taken into account.Recommend

  • Waleed khan
    Dec 16, 2010 - 12:21PM

    Yes. I found it insensitive as wel. Now I am going to cryRecommend

  • Dec 16, 2010 - 12:21PM

    You know, I’m a pretty open-minded person but I thought the ad was kind of tacky. I don’t mind the Wikileaks reference, but I just don’t think it was done well Plus, its kind of awkward because I drive by one of those billboards on my way to uni every day, where I’m dropped by my dad. Who actually slowed the car and said, “What’s that about Wikileaks?” Embarrassing, no?Recommend

  • Gulmeenay
    Dec 16, 2010 - 3:21PM

    @Anonymous:You’re offended because there’s an ad about the a feminine product out there? Or that as the ad says, the product works. I’m confused.
    @Ghausia: So just say it’s an ad about a sanitary napkin. I’m pretty sure your dad can handle it :pRecommend

  • Dec 16, 2010 - 4:55PM

    As soon as the ad was put up I saw it. And i remarked to a friend that this was really very clever of them. Smart idea. Recommend

  • Dec 16, 2010 - 5:09PM

    I think some of you r too close minded……..That is the highest level of creativity…….Cheers…Recommend

  • Erik
    Dec 16, 2010 - 5:17PM

    @Gulmeenay you’re so insensitive to the tragedy of human condition……Recommend

  • Dec 16, 2010 - 5:26PM

    @Gulmeenay I had my earphones firmly plugged in loudly blasting MCR and my sunglasses jammed on my nose, I pretended to be asleep. :P Its not as funny as it could be actually, lets face it, sanitary napkins=a load of great jokes, but this was sadly enough, an epic fail.Recommend

  • Palle Gulvballe
    Dec 16, 2010 - 5:50PM

    @Ghausia Wikileaks are embarrasing to your government, not to you.
    Its embarrasing to all government especially usa.
    Or do you meen its embarrasing to use something that is importent to free speech, and truthtelling, in a comercial?Recommend

  • Dec 16, 2010 - 5:52PM

    Totally in bad taste. Recommend

  • Dec 16, 2010 - 5:53PM

    Awesome ad.

    Where is the problem in a sanitary napkin being promoted as non leaking? That is the whole point of buying one, no?

    Far better at those implied ones with girls doing all kinds of things unrelated to napkins or confidential whispers…. I don’t know if you have them in Pakistan, but we used to have those awful whisper ads with a mug shot of a woman in black clothes sharing about how good Whisper is in a half embarrased way – now that was really embarrassing to watch. And then we had one where the girl is all help and happening all around the month, with a shot of her bottom hitting the seat of a scooter. Uh…. the target clients are girls, and they aren’t interested in watching other girl’s bums….

    I just loved this ad. For once, there is no shame, no nonsense, no running around trees. Funny and makes its point clearly.Recommend

  • Reza Khan
    Dec 16, 2010 - 6:01PM

    Great ad! Says it all. The political innuendo works great here. Perfect example of “out the box” creativity. Recommend

  • Sarah
    Dec 16, 2010 - 6:04PM

    I think the ad is BRILLIANT. Great job RG BLUE and Great job Butterfly for finally taking a RISK in creative advertising. This is what I live for, and seriously the Pakistani people need to work on their sense of humor. Don’t act holier than thou when we’re all aware of the kind of “cheap jokes” generally DO go around.

    I think this is an extremely clever way to advertising taking current affairs. Very nicely done, very timely.

    I have no felt goosebumps for ANY ad here in a long time, good advertising is a rush

    once again, Brilliant work!!Recommend

  • Gyaani Baba
    Dec 16, 2010 - 6:12PM

    I totally second you Waleed.

    Things to remember.
    1. It is about the product not leaking.
    2. It is for a female, literate female audience ( and not for you, probably they would understand the message being conveyed.)
    3. When you say you are open minded, it’s about time you put a lock to your mind.Recommend

  • StThomas
    Dec 16, 2010 - 6:15PM

    The Guardian has heard of it, so this is going to viral in the UK as well!
    I think the ad is in terrible taste, by the way, but very funny. Recommend

  • Dec 16, 2010 - 6:39PM

    Bravo to the creatives of RG Blue Communications! Finally, another item than the French scandal about “retrocommissions”, or the talibans or Pakistan’s intelligence services, or the Bhutto family… Thank you for letting us know that in Karachi there are people with ideas, working in regular advertising agencies, just like in any other big city.Recommend

  • Erum
    Dec 16, 2010 - 6:40PM

    You beat me to it! This is on the KPT flyover. I’m at a loss for words. xDRecommend

  • Anonymous
    Dec 16, 2010 - 8:17PM

    “Sensitivities of female target audience”? What on earth are you talking about? I am a woman, I get my period once a month and thankfully I can rely on products like sanitary napkins to get on with ordinary life. What’s there to be sensitive about? Someone pointing out that a sanitary napkin works? Does the world have to be sensitive about that now? Or do we have to be sensitive about someone reminding you that most women bleed once a month? (Biological fact.) Grow up for heaven’s sake. And get a sense of humour.Recommend

  • Dec 16, 2010 - 8:27PM

    They have basically added marketing value to the product, for most retention. Just like Saba/Tribune gave them coverage for free :)Recommend

  • Dec 16, 2010 - 8:28PM

    Abu Hamza: They are not for eating ;)Recommend

  • BettyK
    Dec 16, 2010 - 9:44PM

    “Bad Taste” doesn’t even begin to describe this ad. It is completely disgusting!Recommend

  • Rizwan
    Dec 16, 2010 - 9:53PM

    We hardly ever get creative ads so this is like a breath of fresh air. What I don’t understand is why they capitalised ‘doesn’t'? Just makes it look a bit amateurish. Recommend

  • Dec 16, 2010 - 10:19PM

    I am happy the agency is local. Recommend

  • Ali
    Dec 16, 2010 - 11:00PM

    either way, ad has served its purpose. it’s being talked.Recommend

  • Muslim Boy
    Dec 17, 2010 - 12:08AM

    Napkins are haram in Islam
    Putting pictures is blasphemy
    the photographer of the picture needs to be booked under law # 420948jtj3992part 2
    LHC should take suo mou notic of that.
    and this is another conspiracy by the jews to stop women from bleeding every month. Recommend

  • AK
    Dec 17, 2010 - 12:22AM

    Terrible. For those who call it creative should understand that creativity is going about sensitive issues indirectly.. not directly. There is nothing creative about a slap in the face. Recommend

  • Dec 17, 2010 - 1:34AM

    Creative for Press Ads, when I saw this ad on Shara e Faisal I could only see this napkin thing and not typography. Perhaps they should have increased the font size to make text readable or they are afraid of Mullah brigade who will ink the hoarding and cause leakage ?Recommend

  • Dec 17, 2010 - 3:12AM

    @Palle Gulvballe I think it should be fairly obvious that girls would be embarrassed to have their dads ask them about ads for sanitary napkins. Duh.Recommend

  • Dec 17, 2010 - 4:45AM

    Why are so many people saying this is ‘in bad taste’? What do you expect sanitary pads to advertise besides absorbency? Recommend

  • Dec 17, 2010 - 6:02AM

    Good ad from the marketing point of view. Recommend

  • anonymous female with a sense of humour!
    Dec 17, 2010 - 9:32AM

    Always remember people, it COULD be worse….

    the ad agency had the decency to use a
    CLEAN
    sanitary napkin in this advertisement! Recommend

  • veerta
    Dec 17, 2010 - 10:11AM

    hillarious.
    much less embarrassing than the ads we had a decade or so ago. infact, its simple and straightforward. I dont think even very young girls would find this ad uncomfortable. the best thing is, now I want to go and buy this brand. Good job!Recommend

  • Sana
    Dec 17, 2010 - 2:34PM

    i found it hilarious! my female sensitivities don’t get hurt by a sanitary pad.Period.
    :PRecommend

  • milica
    Dec 17, 2010 - 5:39PM

    Why would the feelings of female target be hurt? Why is a sanitary pad embarrassing? Or why is it embarrassing to talk to one’s father about sanitary pads? Maybe someone thinks that period is something we should be embarrassed of? Maybe the religious people? I really don’t understand, and I would like fellow women who feel this way to explain themselves better. So, at home are you hiding your pads from your fathers? How strange… I was raised by a single mum, so for me this is really interesting.Recommend

  • Sana
    Dec 17, 2010 - 5:54PM

    I too find this ad in extremely bad but ugly taste, it seems to be an outproduct of a childish sort of creativity. It would definitely drop the sale of this product. Recommend

  • Asif
    Dec 17, 2010 - 6:07PM

    In fact, it is a shameful idea…really in bad taste. Dont make fun of women periods problems. Do you make fun of man’s sex issues…no? then why to target women?? Its discrimination and sheer injustice. Remove those billboards, dont give a pretext to Talibans to attack you…. Recommend

  • Dec 17, 2010 - 7:50PM

    @ Everyone who got offended and felt the ad does not look into sensitivities of women issues.

    I happen to know a person who this ad came to for advice before it went up. I am also very close to the dedicated individuals who have been working hard since March 2010 at revamping this product.

    These people have been through sleepless nights on research on how women feel and how we can be provided with something different.

    Yes the ad is a statement, but it is not a statement to ridicule individuals or a cheap shot. It simply states what the product does and also represents millions of women, like myself, who look at the world differently, independently and with a mind and an opinion of their own. It is given to us just because Butterfly and its team believe that the woman of today can look at something with wit and understand it. Then form views on it and liberally discuss it.

    If Butterfly can stir life in just ‘one’ ad of their product, imagine what it can offer to the end users.

    I suggest one waits for the next step from this product and the young, modern and sharp minds behind it before jumping to conclusions. Certainly it can at max offend your govt. not you or me.Recommend

  • Guppoo
    Dec 17, 2010 - 8:18PM

    If RG Blue wants to take this further and venture into even more aggressive marketing pitching itself against its major competitor, Always .. a suggestion for such an ad could be:

    Wikileaks …. Butterfly doesn’t … but Always does …. Recommend

  • Anonymous
    Dec 17, 2010 - 8:58PM

    Pakistan happens to be (rather I still hope it is) the “Islamic Republic of Pakistan.” It is an entirely different story that today we are under the ideology of “enlightened moderation” due to which some individuals of this mind frame may find such an advertisement hilarious, progressive, creative, fantastic, very okay to be put up on public billboards etc.

    I happen to be someone who knows people from both mind sets.

    “Progressive” Pakistanis are going to find this fabulous, and the company and agency may even hope for international recognition.

    However, being a Pakistani, there are certain cultural and social norms that must have been taken into account while making such an ad. The average Pakistani is going to be very uncomfortable viewing this. The implications of this ad are by far MANY. But I would like to list a few:

    a) I don’t think passing by such an ad would be a pleasant experience for a “ba- haya” (modest) woman. Shame and modesty ESPECIALLY about such a topic still exists in our women today. Hence what this ad has done is, put such women in a very awkward situation each time they may pass by it with the men in their families. And going for “drives” is one of the few entertainments the middle class Pakistani has left in our developing country. Thank you for ruining that :)

    b) As seen, men have made this ad. If these men, truly respected women, they would have thought time and again before putting this idea forward, rather than having the “campaign rolled out very quickly.” Because I have seen men discuss this ad, and if women saw their comments I’m sure they would be disgusted and insulted.

    c) This company is targeting the middle-class. I don’t think most of those who “love” this ad use this company’s product. Hence the company has only angered the middle class (who are highly offended by it). I personally know of people who now have chosen another company because of the offensive nature of this ad. I anticipate a drop in sales, because honestly, aren’t ad’s about increasing sales? So even if all the “enlightened moderate” ladies of Pakistan switched to this company (ya right!), it will (and is) lose out on it current customers.

    Hence, this ad just might backfire.

    Oh yes, and seeing it’s now known in Britain, cant they be sued for using the name of Wiki leaks? Good luck with that!

    Narrated by Abu Huraira (ra): The Prophet said, “Faith (Belief) consists of more than sixty branches (i.e. parts). And Haya is a part of faith.” (Bukhari).
    Hence The Prophet (PBUH) has said in one Hadith, “When there is no haya left, then do as you please.”

    I guess the agency and the company have done exactly as they pleased.Recommend

  • Aliza
    Dec 17, 2010 - 11:28PM

    I feel that the idea of the ad is very creative HOWEVER there was no need to put up a picture of this HUGE pad in the ad. The target audience are women and they all know what a pad looks like, this picture makes the ad tacky and dilutes the impact of the creative tagline.Recommend

  • Mahvesh
    Dec 18, 2010 - 12:06AM

    Hey if they manage to make these ads funny instead of all about “women’s liberation” and embarrassing whispers and god knows what other lame innuendos and stupid comparisons, I’m all up for it!

    “Epic fail” this most certainly is NOT! Awesome work. Recommend

  • talal
    Dec 18, 2010 - 10:15AM

    this ad is clean and decent by all means. People who think this ad is in bad taste, i guess they will also have a problem with sanitary napkin ads being put up all together. If it is that sensitive to women than actually no one should be talking about it at all in public, right?

    This ad shows no vulgarity, no indecency. If sanitary napkins are about absorbing women’s periodical discharge than this ad says all about being a perfect sanitary napkin for women. So what if it has a humor in it. On the other hand, it also encourages people to be more aware of the politics around the world. tens of thousands of people who dont know what wikileaks is will be more intrigued to know after looking at this ad. Recommend

  • Akhtar Mahmud
    Dec 19, 2010 - 1:22AM

    Full comment already posted above.Recommend

  • Akhtar Mahmud
    Dec 19, 2010 - 1:29AM

    I am a brand consultant at Brand Image. Teach branding and advertising at IBA. The add is really very good. Few words. Pun. Humour. Very timely. Catchy. But does it take into prespective the target market? Will it change the stature of the brand? Will it challange ALWAYS with the 360′ campaign. Will it really build the brand? Only time will unfold all this. In advertising we call it vampire creativity!

    Akhtar MahmudRecommend

  • Aftab
    Dec 19, 2010 - 7:09AM

    @Maulana Anonymous: Thank you for your valuable insight into the matter. I’ll get to you in a bit.

    I read about this ad campaign on another website a couple of days back, and I was rather amused. Finally! Creative advertisement is dawning amid bomb blasts, gunshots and public lynchings. But then I kept coming across this article, and that just plain ticked me off.

    My beef is not with what the ad had to say or how it supposedly insulted women. For what it’s worth, I think its a great ad. Cool wordplay, and for once people are starting to learn the art of advertisement. In fact, it is one of the coolest marketing ideas I have seen in a while in Pakistan. And i’ll tell you why:

    1- The whole concept behind creative marketing is being able to leave an impression on your target market. And this ad does this perfectly. Its funny, its upbeat, its creative with good recall value, and I am not sure how much the ad agency was counting on this bit being a print media campaign, but its gone viral too. I would call it a job well done.

    2- But what makes it better than good? Its the way it is gaining traffic that I am really impressed with. Let’s step back and see what’s going on here: We are reading about Butterfly pads ad campaign, and about RG Blue ad agency, IN A NATIONAL PUBLICATION ARTICLE! Hello, free advertisement??

    As for Maulana Anonymous a few posts up, buckle up brother:

    a) Islamic Republic of Pakistan, you say? Name three things Islamic about today’s Pakistan. (And no, the name doesn’t count!)
    b) Enlightened moderation?? Kithoun? One doesn’t have to be enlightened to realize that half the human population exhibits PMS symptoms once a month, or that sanitary pads are a part of their life? Menstruation is a stinking biological fact! Get used to it. I just don’t understand why is it considered such a taboo to even know about it. Keeping it such a hush hush can more sensibly be associated with being a retard, thereby disqualifying you from being the flag-bearer of “certain cultural and social norms”.

    Moreover, there are volumes dedicated to menstruation issues in Islamic studies that all Muslim men and women are supposed to read, know, understand and acknowledge! If knowing Islam better than your sorry butt entitles me as enlightened, then I’ll have to take that stigma, thank you very much!

    Now let’s get to the implications you mentioned:

    b) Men have designed this ad? Men? I am by no means a feminist, but seriously? Is that your argument? Did you know your pants were probably sewn by a woman?

    c) Given the current limelight this creative (and just the right amount of controversial) ad campaign is getting, no one is going to give a rat’s tail about a couple of close-minded people who like to pretend there is no such thing as periods! In fact, I can say with much certainty that both the ad agency (thanks to you, Saba) and the manufacturer are headed for a boom in revenue.

    d) And legal action from Wikileaks?? Its not a trademark, you genius! Get your facts right!

    Hayaa is a definitive part of religion. So is education! So don’t confuse westernization with enlightenment. They may seem to you as one and the same, but that’s not always the case. Take care!Recommend

  • interlocutor
    Dec 19, 2010 - 11:24PM

    I hundred % agree with Anonymous, the ad has offended middle class women, the appreciation above is just coming from mummy daddy class. Some issues are not related to fun such as women period issue but the ad is making fun of it. Its just like “Oh women, Wiki Leaks but your pad will not leak…hahahhaaa, oh guys enjoy this joke”….a very disgusting idea indeed.
    We have really forgotten ‘haya’ and the people who say that “Menstruation is a stinking biological fact! Get used to it”. I must say that being something a biological fact does not mean that you make fun of it. Men’s wet dreams are also biological fact but should it be made fun of???And if menstruation is such a biological fact that it could be discussed and mocked openly, then I must ask how many men are there who discuss this issue with their mothers, sisters and daughters??? If not then we must have to admit that there are some sensitive issues which should be handle with prudence not using third class kind of creativity.Recommend

  • shahida kazi
    Dec 20, 2010 - 10:41AM

    The merits and demerits of the ad apart,i would just like to say a few words to those who are talking about modesty and islamic values.Do you know how many ahadis are there is Sahih Bukhari whi specifically deal with menstruation?And how openly women used to vcome and discuss their problems about the matter with the holy Prophet?If talking about these things was immodest they would not have been discussed so openly or published in the books.We are ourselves responsible for making taboos of things which were not supposed to be ta boo.Recommend

  • Marketing Student
    Dec 20, 2010 - 12:40PM

    Well I found every one labelling each other like always with “Mullah-tag or Close Minded-tag” “Liberal-tag/Open Minded-tag”.

    I found thi ad a part of “controversary marketing tactic” like Ibrar’s Songs Perveen & Permeen. Nothing more than that. Where are marketing ethics these days??Recommend

  • Anonymous
    Dec 20, 2010 - 4:57PM

    Maulana Anonymous.(as I am now called) here :)

    Just want to reiterate the fact that I am a woman :) I rest my case.Recommend

  • Analyser
    Dec 22, 2010 - 10:21AM

    Lol at poster who said the ad agency guys were spending sleepless nights working for the brand before they came up with this ad. Shows what sleep depravation can do to you!Recommend

  • Umaima
    Dec 22, 2010 - 3:01PM

    This is how sanitary napkin’s ad should be — not a God-knows-how-many-minutes-long-toochia-jingle with school girls singing ‘AAAAAAAAAATH GHANTE TAK, na daagh na dar’ and it’s so catchy that you start singing it everywhere :PRecommend

  • S Khan
    Dec 24, 2010 - 10:43AM

    Brilliant. It has achieved its end. It is being spoken off widely and it can be compared to the Pepsi add (Nothing official about it) and various international Viagra, beer and condom adds. Products which relate to hygine or contraception always have a tee hee context to them, and this captured it fully. Good luck with future campaigns. keep it up, this nation needs liberal shock value daily :)Recommend

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