Sunday, December 29, 2002

Rags to riches

Now that dust is out of the way, it's time I took on feminine hygiene.

Nowadays with the near-ceaseless advertising, even we men know a little about this topic. Before it's over I'm sure Tampax will sponsor a bowl game. How did it get this way? This book gives an outline which is heavily ripped off in what follows.

Just before World War I the Kimberly-Clark Company developed a highly absorbent form of cellulose that they called Cellucotton. It was 5 times as absorbent as cotton and more resistant to infection at half the price, and during the war they got a big federal contract for bandages. But when the war ended they had this huge production capacity without a ready market. Now what?

They discovered that nurses had been using the pads as what we now call 'sanitary napkins' and thought they could commercialize it. But how? - the management didn't want the company name associated with the product, and even ladies' magazines wouldn't take ads for it. And of course the whole campaign was to be run by men.

The association problem was solved by setting up a whole new subsidiary. The ad agency addressed their issues by renaming the product Kotex, as in 'cotton textile', and simply noted that it was highly absorbent without further hints. And even this was too much for Ladies' Home Journal back in 1921.

Women weren't making the connection. Then women started showing up in the ads, with a headline 'in stores and shops that cater to women', but it still didn't work. The dealers who would stock Kotex often kept it hidden, women wouldn't ask for it, and when a Woolworth's in San Francisco displayed the stuff in a window a men's organization lobbied successfully to have it removed. So sales were slow.

Then the company switched ad agencies, and the new firm began pitching "A Safe Solution to Women's Greatest Hygiene Problem" and a character named "Ellen J. Buckland, Registered Nurse". By 1925 Kotex was on sale at Carson Pirie Scott, and in 1926 it was in the Montgomery Ward mail-order catalog and competing against more than three hundred brands. By 1928 the company had another character, faux socialite "Mary Pauline Callender", who said that "80 percent of better-class women have discarded ordinary ways for Kotex".

Of course you have only to watch TV for 10 minutes to see how far we've come since then. (I've learned a lot too, like when I found out that the adhesive on mini-pads goes to the panty side). Near as I can tell the latest thing is mini pads with wings suitable for thong underwear.

Maybe next they'll make one that sticks to Mama with wax - it would seal tighter and would exfoliate upon removal. Yeah, that's it - we could use sealing wax, so it could be worn all month as discreet chastity belt. (I'm kidding, for crying out loud!)

PS. I meant to link to this but somehow left it out - the Museum of Menstruation and Women's Health.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Mary Pauline Callender was not a made up character, she really existed. I knew her personally. She was born in Ireland in 1905 and raised in the upper class area of Mayfair, London England. I have the documentation of her work history to prove it. Do a little more research before making claims.