Watchdog Hands Down Findings After Complaints Over Ad Depicting Period Blood

A controversial new ad by Libra which depicted period blood on television for the first time in Australia has not breached the ethics code, Ad Standards has determined.

The watchdog received hundreds of complaints about the ad since it first aired last month, which showed how women experience periods in everyday life, including during sex, in the shower, at dinner parties and at school.

Asaleo Care which makes Libra products launched its #bloodnormal campaign in hopes of tackling the enduring community stigma around periods.

In its response to the complaints, the company said it had launched the campaign after a study it ran earlier this year found that three-quarters of Australian women believed the stigma around periods is greater than the taboo of drugs, sex, STDs and mental health problems.

Photo: Libra.

The two versions of TV ads showed periods being discussed in a number of different scenarios, including at a dinner table where a woman stands and asks "have you got a pad" and in an email Out of Office reply saying: "Thanks for your email. I am having a very heavy period so will be working from home today."

Photo: Libra.

But the ad also went further, depicting, for the first time on Australian TV, period blood, including in one scene where a woman's legs are seen in the shower with water and blood running down them and another where a woman's patterned underwear is seen stained red.

One version of the ad also showed a teenage girl sitting on a toilet as she pulls down her pad to reveal a pixelated image of period blood before the words "periods are normal. Showing them should be too", appear against a red background.

Ad Standards received a barrage of complaints about the ad with viewers slamming it as "distasteful", "unnecessary", "vulgar", "inappropriate" and "disgusting".

"Showing girls bleeding is wrong at any time of the day," one complaint read.

"I can't even watch the whole ad, it is so disgusting," another said.

READ MORE: Libra Ad To Show Period Blood On Television In Australian-First

Several of the complaints said the ad was "unnecessary" because it violated a very "personal" and "sensitive" matter for women, while others went as far as to claim the ad would "appeal to pedophiles."

Others claimed it was against religious values, and even that it was racially discriminatory because only caucasian women were depicted -- a claim the Ad Standards panel dismissed because there is no section of the code which mandates the depiction of diversity in advertising.

In its findings, the Panel said complaints which related to the topic of menstruation being promoted at all were not "discriminative or vilifying" and said the ad does not depict women unfairly or in a way that would likely humiliate them.

Photo: Libra.

The panel also dismissed claims about sexual appeal, saying that despite the shower and toilet scened depicting women in a state of undress, only their bare legs were visible.

"Most members of the community would not consider the depiction of women’s legs in combination with menstruation to be sexually appealing," it said.

READ MORE: Period Pain: The Suffering Caused By Menstruation Huts

READ MORE: Should You Get The Day Off Work If You Have Severe Period Pain?

Many complaints argued that normalising the depiction of period blood on screen would open the floodgates for other bodily fluids to be depicted, such as poo on toilet paper commercials and semen on condom commercials.

In its response, the panel found the depiction of bodily fluids was not banned under the code, adding that its own role was to "consider the content of advertisements, not hypothetical scenarios."

A large number of the complaints were made by parents, who said their young children saw the ad which was aired during prime time viewing around during family-friendly shows.

Many parents said the ad forced them to have a conversation about puberty with their children when they weren't ready, or too young, to do so.

"It is offensive and forces parents to have discussions with our children that we have a right to have at a time appropriate for our children and should not be determined by companies pushing their products or media, airing them during family programs," one viewer said.

These complaints did not see a unanimous finding from the panel, with the minority saying that by playing the ad during family-friendly shows, it did not treat the issue of sexuality with enough "sensitivity".

The majority, however, dismissed the complaints, noting that the age that girls begin their periods is reducing, with some starting as early as eight. They added that by Asaleo Care ensuring their ads were not broadcast before 6:30pm it was unlikely that children would be watching the ad alone.

"The advertisement is communicating an important social message and promoting equality and the de-mystification of menstruation," the majority found.

Photo: Libra.

In its response, Asaleo Care said it has been "overwhelmed" by the number of positive comments it had received.

“Bloody loved it. The ad was captivating. Not necessary or important for us oldies, but great for younger women struggling to deal with the stigma,” one comment shared by the Panel found.

"DON’T STOP, NEVER EVER STOP. This message is too important and it’s about time we get it loud and clear,” another said.