Are These Ads Too Controversial For The NYC Subway?

Photo: Courtesy of Thinx.
Update: Thinx has received approval from Outfront Media to go forward with its original ad campaign. New Yorkers can look for the ads at the Bedford L station in Brooklyn starting November 10. This article was originally published on October 21, 2015. We know an offensive subway ad when we see one, and, in our humble opinion, the above ad from Thinx period-proof underwear does not fit that description. It's intriguing, yes, and surprisingly minimalist compared to other advertisements we've encountered on our morning commute, but in no way is it too scandalous for public viewing. These ads haven't garnered any outcry or controversy from viewers — so why is the agency that runs advertising on New York City trains dragging their heels on approving them? In answering that question, cofounder and CEO of Thinx Miki Agrawal does not mince words: "We live in a patriarchal society," she tells us over the phone. "The period conversation makes them uncomfortable," she says, and that's why "there’s such a double standard with what’s allowed to be up there." Thinx underwear is designed to work in place of pads and tampons on days when a woman's period is light to medium in its flow. Agrawal spent three and half years designing the panties to be antimicrobial, absorbent, and resistant to leaks and stains. She describes them as empowering, protective, and worry-free. With that in mind, you can understand her confusion, frustration, and anger upon hearing from Outfront Media, the advertising contractor for NYC's Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), that Thinx's ads needed to be changed significantly before they could appear on the subway — denying the product exposure to more than 5.5 million commuters.
Photo: Courtesy of Thinx.
"We are well within the guidelines" of the MTA's advertising standards, Agrawal tells us. She describes other ads that have been posted in subway cars without complaint or censure, including those for breast augmentation (which, much like the ad above for Thinx, feature grapefruit imagery). "You can use a grapefruit to represent breasts, but you can’t use them to represent another [part of] female anatomy?" Agrawal asks. She adds that "there’s just such a sexist double standard right now" in the world of advertising. Agrawal is not the first to condemn what she calls "the oversexualization of women in advertising," but she's the most prepared to take a stand against the trend. When asked about her plans for Thinx's ads going forward, she instantly responds: "We’re not changing them. We’re going to fight this until they approve it." Responding to our request for comment, an Outfront Media spokesperson writes: "We suggested changes that we felt were appropriate for the riding public and were hoping to work with the advertiser to refine the copy." The review process is still ongoing, so we'll be watching what happens. Given the work Thinx has done to destigmatize menstruation (and the brand's commitment to bolstering girls' education in Uganda), we certainly hope to catch one of these ads on a future subway ride — grapefruits and all.

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