Advertising The Unmentionable
How do you advertise an unmentionable product? Sanitary napkins were considered as an unmentionable product in the 1920s.
Ask Albert Lasker, president of the Lord & Thomas advertising agency. He is revered as the Father of American Advertising. Here’s how Lasker persuaded Edward Bok, the reluctant editor of Ladies’ Home Journal, who was also known as the supreme arbiter of the manners and morals of middle-class American womanhood.
Lasker and Bok argued over a proposed advertisement for Kotex sanitary napkins. Bok reportedly told Lasker that his decision not to publish the Kotex ad was final. Lasker was not the type who would take ‘no’ for an answer. He challenged the editor to bring his secretary into the office and read the Kotex advertisement. “If she is embarrassed or repelled it,” Lasker said, “ I’ll accept your judgment. There’ll be no further argument.” Bok called in his white-haired secretary, a woman in her sixties, and handed her the copy. The two men watched in silence as the secretary started reading the ad. She stopped halfway through, looked at the editor and said, “Why Mr. Bok, this is really a wonderful thing. I certainly think we should run this in the Journal. Women deserve to be told about it.”
In the 1920s advertising for sanitary napkins in the media was unthinkable as women were reluctant to buy the new product Kotex because it meant asking a clerk for a box. This was the case although the company invented the word ‘Kotex’ so women would not have to ask for a ‘sanitary napkin.’
Albert Lasker wrote about this Kotex campaign of 1920s, in Advertising Age of December 15, 1952, “ Just a few of us talked to our wives and asked them if they used Kotex, and we found they didn’t, and in almost every case it was because they did not like to ask the druggist for it.” Lasker suggested that they stack the Kotex boxes on the counter rather than making the lady ask for one. He also added the idea of placing a coin box next to the stack of boxes, completely eliminating the need for a woman to ask anyone about Kotex.
Lasker probably borrowed this idea from O.T. Frash, a copywriter, who reported that he saw that an Apothecary shop owned by a German-American druggist found that women would buy many more packages if they were wrapped in plain white paper and tied with blue string, then piled on the counter in a pyramid surmounted by a small neat card reading, Kotex – Take a box – 65 cents.
The rest became history.