Why That 'Like A Girl' Super Bowl Ad Was So Groundbreaking

02/02/2015 06:01 pm ET | Updated Feb 03, 2015

An ad for pads stole the show during the Super Bowl.

Always, one of the biggest makers of feminine care products (the things women use during their period), debuted a 60-second spot during Sunday night’s game, highlighting the brand's “Like A Girl” campaign. The ad push, which began last summer, shows differences in how young women, boys and young girls perceive the phrase, “like a girl.” The Super Bowl ad won kudos all over the Internet for changing the conversation about what it means to run, throw and do pretty much any activity "like a girl."

The ad may be the first time a feminine care product was advertised during the Super Bowl and is a prominent example of how companies trying to woo women customers are shifting advertising tactics. Historically, ads hawking shampoos and cleaning products have focused largely on selling women a more idealized version of themselves: a "supermom" who keeps a spotless house, or a supermodel who dances around in an all-white outfit during the depths of her period. But certain brands, like Procter & Gamble's Always, are now selling products to women using a combination of empowering messages and realistic portrayals of their target shopper.

The idea for the touchy-feely ad campaign came from a common business exercise: analyzing consumer research. Fama Francisco, vice president of Global Always, and her colleagues looked closely at the data and found that girls experience a significant drop in self-confidence when they hit puberty.

“That deep consumer insight and understanding made us really step back and think, ‘What are the things that really contribute to that and how can we make a difference?’” Francisco told The Huffington Post.

It's not a coincidence that the campaign has resonated with women. Not only is a woman, Francisco, overseeing the Always brand, but Lauren Greenfield, the famed documentarian who directed the award-winning "Queen Of Versailles," is overseeing the "Like a Girl" spots.

That's a rarity in Corporate America, where men traditionally have occupied most of the top decision-making positions at many companies selling goods to women, leading to some un-relatable ads and difficult-to-use products.

It’s still unclear whether the campaign is actually pushing more girls to buy Always pads, but Adobe ranked “Like a Girl” the top digital campaign of the Super Bowl, based on an analysis of mentions on a variety of social networks and Internet platforms.

“When you have a message that really addresses such an important and a real issue and it's done in a way that is very consistent with who are as a brand, I think consumers want to engage with that,” Francisco said.

Women react to the "Like A Girl" campaign on Twitter:

The Always campaign is one of many from feminine care and beauty companies in recent years to use concepts more relatable than blue water on pads to try to sell products to women.

Kotex launched a campaign in 2010 apologizing for its “ridiculous” ads showing unrealistic images of women dancing in white spandex during their periods. In 2004, Dove launched the “Campaign for Real Beauty,” a series of ads featuring women with all sorts of body types discussing their perceptions of beauty.

“There is a recognition that if you continue to show these images that really don’t fit who your consumers are anymore, they will go somewhere else,” Kimberly Taylor, a marketing professor at Florida International University’s business school, told HuffPost.

Still, some say Always' Super Bowl ad didn’t go far enough. Elissa Stein, co-author of Flow: The Cultural Story of Menstruation, noted that the spot never discussed the experience of having a period. Companies have shied away from talking about menstruation since the 1920s, when the first feminine care products came to the market. Stein argued that's because the best way to sell pads and tampons is to get women to feel like their periods are shameful, embarrassing and dirty episodes.

“I thought they did a great job, but it has zero to do with menstruation, as do most menstrual ads,” Stein said. “Everybody was talking about toe fungus,” she added, referring to a Super Bowl ad for the fungal treatment Jublia, “and yet you can’t about periods.”

Despite her criticism, Stein said that airing an ad for feminine products during the Super Bowl was “groundbreaking.” At certain points in American history, such advertising wasn't allowed on TV at all, she said. But in Stein’s ideal world, the campaign would “not just be about being a girl, or being a woman,” she said. It would be about “being a girl or a woman who has a period, and that’s okay.”

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