Analysis of the ‘Carefree Flexia’ Product

Semiotics: Product Analysis

A woman’s menstrual cycle has never been a comfortable topic of discussion, however, as one of the necessary items of life, the marketing of sanitary products has been carefully moulded to suit the specific culture and social constructs of that time. An example of this is the recently released ‘Carefree Flexia’. The advertising campaign features a television commercial which carries the theme that “Little things can make a big difference to your confidence.”

Feminine products of this nature have had a variety of marketing techniques applied to their advertisements. The approach to the sale of sanitary products has altered and adapted to fit the context and cultural expectations of the times. For example, in the 1940’s and 50’s, it became more common for advertisements to feature the face only. Seeing the body was a symbol of the woman’s ability to work (It had been used to empower women during the war. (Fig. 1.)) The focus turned from giving women independence to reminding them that now the war was over, their place was back in the home. (Delaney et al. 1988, pp. 130-131) Confidence was still a big selling point, but it generally related to pleasing your man and not being distracted by your periods.

The menstrual cycle as a topic has always been a social taboo, and a very sensitive area of marketing (Meinersmann, K.M.S qtd. in Kissling, [electronic]). Even in this time of what appears to be gender equality, the Flexia commercial shows how the natural process of menstruating is still something that should be hidden (Weiner 2004, [electronic]). Although the product has a simple and practical purpose, that marketing technique used is ambiguous and almost irrelevant to the product. Which in itself is no different from any other tampon except they have added ‘wings’.

The target market for this product is women aged between around 14-25 old. The nature of the advertisement shows it is directed toward women who are familiar with the menstruation cycle because it is less about educating the viewer and more about convincing the viewer that buying this product will enhance their confidence. It appears to be directed to a younger audience because lack of confidence is a topic generally associated with younger women. Also instead of showing the reality of life, the commercial shows the ideals. For example, the young mother is thin, beautiful (Fig. 7) and enjoying herself at a picnic after baking some cupcakes with cherries on top (Fig. 4) This imagery would not be successful if aimed at young/mothers because they know the reality of their situation is a lot harder than it is depicted in the commercial. The commercial was aired on channel two between 6.30 pm and 7pm during an episode of ‘Friends,’ which attracts a similar audience to the Flexia’s target market.

In general, sanitary products are made from the same fibres and materials and are marketed in a similar way. By focussing on positive re-enforcement, giving a solution to insecurity and emphasising freedom; and in many cases making some reference to maternal instinct and the importance of family. This advertisement manages to sell a generic product as something beneficial to each individual by utilising the culture of western women and referencing the relevant stages of womanhood. The product itself is sold in every supermarket , and the packaging (Fig. 16) is not hugely different from any other sanitary product. So the product relies on the television advertisement as well as magazine ad for sales.

The advertisement focuses on the insecurities of the female population; highlighting the importance of social acceptance, mainly relating to image and appearance. The dialogue in the advertisement details the ‘little thing’ that increases confidence. Two out of the three things relate to image, one is about adding cherry lip-gloss to your ‘look’ (Fig. 9) and the other is about hiding bad hair with a hat (Fig. 2). The third statement is “a compliment from a stranger,” (Fig. 5). All three contribute to the myth that image is one of the most important things for a female to concern herself with. As well as this, the statements work to show that confidence is based on physical appearance. An idea that is somewhat contradictory to the idea of women being comfortable with themselves during ‘that time of the month’. The language used in both the packaging and the commercial is more likely to be associated with feminine attributes rather than masculine. For example the brand name itself “Carefree Flexia” would be erroneous if used on a male product.

The colour scheme used in both the ad and the packaging is very feminine and works as a subtle signifier on many different levels. The first and perhaps most obvious one is that of femininity. Pink is the most commonly used colour to represent anything of a feminine nature (Koller 2008, [electronic]). Not only that, pink “contains, generates, and tolerates more contradictions than practically any other colour.”(Von Taschitzki, T qtd. in Koller, [electronic]). It is a concept that females recognise from childhood, unknowingly integrate into their identity as young women, and therefore what teenagers deem suitable products to purchase. The use of pink in any advertisement is a clear message that whatever is being advertised relates to women in some way.

In this particular commercial, pink is used as three different signifiers. The first shade of pink is referencing the packaging (Fig. 16), and is a bright mid-tone pink. This simply identifies the product as a female product. The second shade of pink is in the scene with the mother and child. This pink is lighter, more pastel; a colour generally linked to childhood, innocence etc. This idea is enhanced by the fact the colour is on the balloons that are also signifiers of childhood (Koller 2008, [electronic]). The final pink that is used is the cherry colour of the lip-gloss. Not only is the colour often used to symbolise sexuality (Koller 2007, [electronic]), but lip-gloss on its own is sometimes considered a symbol of sexuality and sexual identity. Adding to this, the girl in this part of the clip portrays the stereotypical teen girl. The background is a white bathroom, as well as that she is dressed in white, which shows her innocence (Fig. 8). She then puts on the lip-gloss and reaches for the Carefree Flexia box, signifying her move into womanhood and feminine sexuality (Fig. 12). This is enhanced by the name of the lip-gloss. “Cherry” is a widely-known euphemism for virginity. The fact that this scene takes place in front of the mirror also references the focus on image and self-improvement (Fig. 10, 11).

Another strong signifier that can be found in both the advertisement and the packaging is that of nature. In the first scene of the commercial, it is raining (Fig. 2). The second scene takes place in the park, surrounded by trees (Fig. 5); with close-ups of grass, flowers etc (Fig. 4), and the bathroom has a pot plant in it (Fig. 8). These symbolise growth, and also represent the fact that periods are a natural occurrence. They also act as a timeline. The plant in the bathroom is small, contained, representing the young ‘lip-gloss girl,’ whereas trees, which could show her age, wisdom etc, surround the mother in the park. The packaging references nature through the use of the green, and the flower (Fig. 17). Flowers are often used on female products because they symbolise femininity and subliminally make reference to the female genitalia (Koller 2008, [electronic]). In this case, the flower is pink and enhances the feminine look of the package.

Rounded shapes are seen throughout the advertisement and are also on the package (Fig. 18). Again, this is common on feminine products and not only reference the physical shape of the female body, but also the stereotypical female personality, i.e. soft, gentle, caring etc. The similarities found in the marketing continue, both the packaging and commercial are ambiguous, neither state nor show clearly what the product is for. Instead, they exaggerate the ‘softness’ by blurring out backgrounds and minimising harsh lines (Fig. 3). The packaging design reflects this by using soft italic typefaces, and linear detailing that gives the package a feeling of fluidity and gentleness. These characteristics appeal to women not only because of the nature of the product, but also because it reflects the social construct that women are supposed to be this way also, i.e. the more graceful of the gender’s, gentle and fluid etc.

In conclusion, the semiotics of the branding and marketing of “Carefree Flexia” is clearly aimed at women, especially those of the 14-25-age bracket, focussing on their weaknesses, and promising a better future. Women on the whole are largely driven by emotional response and the Carefree Flexia marketing scheme uses this to its advantage. Although it is trying to appeal to women of our generation by seeming to encourage female independence (women going out, young mothers without husbands etc), the campaign still draws on the insecurities of women. These are only present because of the pressure to fit in to the ‘social norm’ of looking beautiful, having friends being happy with who you are and having confidence because you look good. Thus, in itself, the advertisement keeps women within the constraints that society creates for them, maintaining and propagating the ideology. It reminds women that above all, we need to be concerned with appearance, that we are not happy until a stranger gives us a compliment or we apply the necessary makeup to enhance our sexuality. There is no direct reference to the importance of character, personality and instead of selling the tampon from a practical standpoint, the packaging and commercial focus on the ‘little things,’ showing the viewer that that is what she should be focused on too.

References

Delaney, J., Lupton, M.J., Toth, E., 1988, The Curse: A Cultural History of Menstruation, University of Illinois Press, Illinois.

Kissling, E.A, 2002, ‘On the Rag on Screen: Menarche in Film and Television’, Sex Roles: A Journal Of Research, (Jan 2002),

[electronic], vol.5, no. 8, Available: Expanded Academic ASAP. Gale. Auckland University of Technology. 6 Nov. 2008,

Koller, K. 2008, ‘Not Just a Colour’: Pink as a Gender and Sexuality Marker in Visual Communication’, Visual Communication

[electronic], vol 7, no. 4, pp. 395-418. Nov 2008, Available: Sociology: A Sage Full Text Collection.

Weiner, R. 2004, ‘A Candid Look At Menstrual Products- Advertising and Public Relations’, Public Relations Quarterly, Summer

2004, pp. 26-28.

Images: Dixon, Barbara 2005, Good Housekeeping: Wartime Scrapbook, Book Review. Barbara Dixon, http://static.flickr.com/30/52964441_4bf8f22e38.jpg

Carefree Flexia

28 Oct. 2008, Channel 2, Auckland.

Carefree Flexia [packaging photography] Oct 2008, .

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