Not-So-Famous Firsts: Ads for Feminine Products


Do you remember the first time you saw a live model wear a brassiere on a television commercial? It might not have been as long ago as you think. Join us for a quick look at some not-so-famous TV firsts of the womanly persuasion.

I Dreamed I Was Headless in My Maidenform Bra

Until the mid-1980s, the National Association of Broadcasters Code Authority had to approve each and every television commercial before it hit the airwaves. One of their more archaic rules (especially in an era when Lynda Carter was running around during prime time in a barely-there bustier) stated that any live models in bra commercials had to be fully clothed. If the offending undergarment was displayed on a mannequin, the dummy had to be either headless or armless or (best case scenario) both. By 1987, NABCA had relaxed its regulations slightly and left the lingerie issue up to each network to decide whether it was corrupting America's morals on a case-by-case basis. Playtex hit the ground running on May 4 of that year by airing two different Cross Your Heart commercials (one called "Glitter" and one entitled "Weekend") during daytime programming, the first time bras were seen touching the actual flesh of live humans on the boob tube.

Courteney Calls It What It Is

Feminine hygiene product commercials got the go-ahead from NABCA in 1972, long before lacy unmentionables were allowed.

The first tampon brand to advertise on television was Rely, which started airing ads in two test cities (Rochester, NY, and Fort Wayne, IN) in July 1975. When Proctor and Gamble wasn't bombarded with protests for their audacity, Playtex quickly followed suit with competing commercials. (Rely was taken off the market in 1980 after its super-absorbent components were linked to Toxic Shock Syndrome.)

The first person ever to utter the word "period" in a TV commercial when discussing a product made for that purpose was future Friends star Courteney Cox, who dropped the "p-bomb" several times in this 1985 Tampax ad:

Clear Results in Just Two Hours!

The rationale for the home pregnancy test was not a matter of convenience (and saving the cost of a doctor's office visit) for the woman, but a response to the heightened awareness of the importance of pre-natal care. If a woman could test at home as soon as she suspected impending motherhood, she could head to an ob-gyn earlier in the pregnancy and find out if she needs to, say, stop knocking back martinis during her afternoon canasta games. Warner-Chilcott got FDA approval for its e.p.t. (Early Pregnancy Test) in 1976, followed shortly by Accu-Test, Predictor and Answer. Once e.p.t. was fine-tuned so that it was simpler (only half a dozen easy steps!) and faster (results in only two hours!) it became the first home pregnancy test to advertise on television.

What Else Can It Do?

It seems like toenail fungus and erectile dysfunction commercials have been airing on TV since the Eisenhower Administration, but the FDA didn't actually lift the ban on direct-to-consumer prescription drug advertising until 1997. Even though some of the ads get pretty specific in explaining the drug's main purpose (like little gross mucous monsters infiltrating your lungs), commercials for birth control pills to this day remain rather coy as to their ultimate purpose.

Ortho Tri-Cyclen was the first contraceptive pill to buy television time (the company spent $13 million in 2000 for a six-month campaign). Ortho-T had also received separate approval from the FDA as an acne treatment, so that angle was hyped in commercials to make the product more palatable to the viewing public. In the original campaign, all the featured couples were married so that the one mention of unwanted pregnancy wouldn't be interpreted as support for promiscuity. More recent commercials for products like Seasonale and Yaz emphasize the empowerment a woman gets by controlling her monthly cycle as well as relief from PMS symptoms and blemish-free skin. The baby-prevention side-effect of the Pill is almost reduced to a footnote.