Cannes Lions winner: Libresse embraces female taboos with 'Viva La Vulva'

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This taboo-breaking campaign from Libresse (Essity FemCare brand in the Nordics, known as Bodyform in the UK) celebrated female genitalia in all its forms, fighting against myths, insecurities and stereotypes that women face every day.

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Case study summary

• Libresse used 'challenger brand' status against P&G to stand out from the crowd with ‘#bloodnormal’ campaign
• Follow Viva La Vulva ad went live in Sweden and Denmark, looking to normalise discussion about female genitals to tackle health risks
• Brand conducted global quantitative research delving into how women feel about and care for their vulvas – and the results confirmed that situation:
• Campaign immediately received praise around the world, from the US to India.
• With £0 media support, video garnered more than 5m organic views in under two weeks.

The challenge

Libresse is a challenger brand against P&G, which has a large media budget for Always. As such, the brand wanted to be daring in ways to stand out from the crowd and encourage consumers to switch via brand recoignition.

The campaign followed on from Libresse's #bloodnormal movement, which dared to normalise periods in 2017.

The follow-up, Viva La Vulva, went live in Sweden and Denmark last year. It aimed to tackled insecurities women often feel about a rather taboo subject, which could lead to negative actions, such as elective plastic surgery or avoidance of smear tests that can lead to more serious health issues being overlooked.

Libresse conducted global quantitative research delving into how women feel about and care for their vulvas – and the results confirmed that situation:

Over half of women feel pressure for their vulva looking a certain way and almost half of them (44%) have felt embarrassed by the way their vulva naturally looks, smells or feels. 68% of women don’t technically know what their own vulva is, with one in four completely unaware that no two vulvas should look exactly the same.

With this campaign, Libresse aimed to contribute to a more open culture where women can feel proud of what they have, can feel okay about talking about their genitals and can care for it without feeling ashamed.

The campaign

AMVBBDO worked with Clearcast to make a TV ad which showed different representations of vulvas singing along to an upbeat song, to positively reinforce the idea that there is no such thing as a perfect vulva. This creative was to be used to promote their new Pure Sensitive range of sanitary products. There was clearly good reason for a campaign for this type of product to focus on that part of the female anatomy, the question was whether in doing so the campaign would be unacceptably offensive.

AMV provided a deck containing many examples of what the agency wanted to show. There were things from nature that looked like vulvas, like rock formations and oysters. Then there were man-made things that looked like vulvas, like fortune cookies and button holes.

Then finally there were things that had been made to look like vulvas, like cupcakes and embroidery.

Some examples were quite abstract and vague, and some were more realistic. It was agreed that most of the images were likely to be acceptable for broadcast after 9pm, but they also said that the materials would need to be shared with the Copy Committee for its final approval. This group is made up of representatives of the broadcasters on Clearcast’s board, plus the IPA and ISBA, and Clearcast involve the Copy Committee in the decision-making process when copy is particularly contentious.

The results

Released in Scandinavia and the UK, the campaign immediately received praise around the world, from the US to India. With £0 media support, the brand video garnered more than 5 million organic views in under two weeks.

The PR that Viva La Vulva generated for Libresse was immense. The campaign went on to win a prestigious D&AD award in 2019. AMV BBDO also won a Gold Lion for Change and Cannes in 2019.

As expected, once the campaign went live, a number of complaints were made that one of the ads was offensive, but the ASA chose not to launch a formal investigation into these complaints. It acknowledged that while the images might be challenging and distasteful to some people, the ad was unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence. The ASA considered this because it was shown during programming designed for adults, it was light-hearted, it wasn’t gratuitous and it was appropriate in the context of an ad for sanitary products.

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