Essity’s Newest Boundary-Pushing Ad Explores the Joy and Agony of Having a Womb

Campaign gives voice to they myriad ways women experience their bodies–from periods to pregnancy, and even miscarriage

Woman in pain on the bathroom floor
Agency AMV BBDO highlights the emotional and physical toll of menstruation, childbirth and miscarriage. Essity

If the narrative created by most ads was anything to go by, you’d think women from the age of puberty and beyond were put on this Earth to look good, have a few babies and then basically drop off the edge of the planet by the time they hit menopause—only to return in a cameo role as doting grandmother.

Commercials that reflect the real lived experience of women—save for a few groundbreaking campaigns—are few and far between. What about women who don’t want children? Or those who can’t have them and suffer miscarriages? What about those who spend the beginning of each month doubled over in pain because of endometriosis—an agonizing and woefully underdiagnosed disease? What about those who are approaching, going through or have been through the menopause?

"This narrative that you get your period, get a bit of pain, have babies, then quietly retire – the damage of that is twofold"
Nicholas Hulley – AMV BBDO ECD

These were questions that agency AMV BBDO in London was considering in developing the latest online and social campaign for Essity-owned brand Libresse, called Womb Stories, which launches today across Europe, including the U.K., Nordics and Eastern Europe.

The resulting 3-minute hero spot is a follow up to its highly awarded #BloodNormal and “Viva la Vulva” campaigns–which included showing red period blood for the first time in an ad. The campaigns from parent company Essity have run under different brand names, such as Libresse and Bodyform, in different markets.

Wombs reimagined through animation

This spot, which features anthromorphized wombs reimagined as animated characters and was directed by Canadian-American director Nisha Ganatra, is both a celebration and an acknowledgement of the pain and sorrow that can come from having a female reproductive system.

In the middle of the film, it shows that sometimes, things don’t go according to plan and introduces a heartbreaking twist: A pregnant woman has a miscarriage. Her animated womb becomes a desolate place.

The spot also shows women having hot flushes, having sex, leaking period blood over underwear and suffering agonizing period pain due to endometriosis.

Speaking to Adweek, AMV BBDO executive creative directors Nadja Lossgott and Nicholas Hulley explained they wanted to push boundaries yet again.

In the miscarriage scene, Lossgott and Hulley said, the team deliberated at length over how to make it as sensitive as possible but did not want to silence women’s experience of this sadly common event (one in eight pregnancies ends in miscarriage).

The character does, in a message of hope, get pregnant again and end up with a healthy baby.

“Unfortunately, miscarriage is part of so many women’s lives, and it’s such an important thing to acknowledge and talk about,” Lossgott said. “So many people, in general, live in that silence. It’s a very personal, deeply awful experience, but it’s proven to be helpful to talk about it. Making sure it was treated in the most delicate and empathetic of ways [was important to us].”

A menopausal woman's womb is reimagined as a burning room.
AMV BBDO / Libresse

The client, Hulley added, was “brave” to run with them on that idea. But the brand is on a mission to break taboos, he said. “They are the clients who approved lip syncing vulvas and the first period blood on TV.”

“I will caveat that I am a man–but this narrative that you get your period, get a bit of pain, have babies, then quietly retire–the damage of that is twofold,” he said. “It makes everything else [outside of that] feel abnormal … It makes people sit in their guilt or shame.”

Endometriosis, which can cause agonizing pain, is pictured as a monster.
AMV BBDO / Libresse

The spot is being supported by a social media campaign #WombStories, which encourages women to share their own experiences.

“With this campaign, we started thinking it’s great and good to normalize [things like blood] and be positive. But women’s biology is always seen as so functional – but sometimes, actually, it’s a bit shit,” Lossgott said. “It’s complicated. There’s so many ‘womb stories,’ and each women will experience a load of them in her life.”

Client: Tanja Grubner, Martina Poulopati, Luciana De Azevedo Lara, Traci Baxter and Nicola Coronado from Essity
Brand: Libresse
Agency: AMV BBDO
Executive creative directors: Nadja Lossott and Nicholas Hulley
Creative directors: Toby Allen and Jim Hilson
Director: Nisha Ganatra
TV producers: Edwina Dennison and Lucia Fioravanti
Art: Fiona Bailey
Design: Mario Kerkstra
Production: Shanah Blevins, Lisa Mehling and Pat McGoldrick from Chelsea Pictures
Post production: Framestore
Editing: Trim Editing
Media agency: Zenith
Creative director, animation: Sharon Lock
Animators: Roos Mattar; Kate Isobel Scott, Everyone Agency; Haein Kim; Carine Khalife; Laura Jayne Hodkin at Strange Beast; Salla Lehmus at Soja; Annie Wong; Aylin Ohri; Meagan Elemans; Molly Grace Lawton; Georgie Wilemore and Nella Addy

@saramayspary Sara Spary is a freelance journalist based in London. She's been a reporter for eight years, covering advertising and consumer brands.