Every Western globetrotter will have experienced it : at the Chinese supermarket, hygienic pads packets overflow on two shelves, but not the slice package of hygienic tampons is to be seen. With less than 2% of users on the national territory, the tampon market in China is still far from a nationwide development, an absence justified by a great lack of knowledge on the topic.

When Olympic swimmer Fu Yuanhui announces her participation in the competition during – and despite – her periods, the media impact feels pretty much different between China and the West: when Westerners praise her for daring to publicly express herself on a taboo subject and take a feminist approach, the Chinese netizens relay the information on Weibo and mostly wonder about the possibility to swim during her periods without colouring the pool in red!


Hygienic pads at Carrefour store in Shanghai


A wide ignorance around menstruation

Barely 2% of Chinese women would use tampons as hygienic protection: on the contrary, more than 70% of Westerners would be regular users, a gap that remains considerable even taking into account the density of China’s population compared to Europe and its recent economic development.

There is no shortage of misconceptions about the harmful use of tampons for the health. Admittedly, the fear of losing one’s virginity because of a tampon is almost not in the current anymore, in an urban Chinese society where having sex before marriage is a practice less and less questionable, but Concerns about tampon’s use among teens in full growth remain, including the reluctance to insert an outside object into a poorly understood part of the body for young Chinese girls themselves.

The debate is much more violent in the West since the publication of a documentary in August 2017 entitled “Tampon, our intimate enemy”, which points out the presence of dioxins and other toxic products, such as pesticide residues or glyphosates inside the composition of tampons.
Many users suspect their use to cause fungal infections, headaches and migraines (although these symptoms can also be attributed to disorders caused by menstruation) and to fear the well-known syndrome of menstrual shock toxic, highly publicized since Californian model Laura Wasser was amputated with one leg after being victim in 2012. Despite several petitions, there is still no legislation requiring tampon manufacturers to indicate the composition of the products on their packaging, and this lack of transparency is consequently highly denounced by activists.


Fighting the negative representation of tampons


To ensure a successful establishment in the Chinese market, it is first necessary to fight against the bad representation of tampons and all the associated negative beliefs, especially by proposing a better transparency in the composition of this products. Chinese consumers are more and more conscious of their health condition, a progressive awareness that follows the various controversies spread over the last few years, from air pollution in major cities to recurrent food scandals (like fake bio and melamine milk scandal). Tampon is a product that has currently no credibility, there is few scientific studies that can hold in favour of its use, so it is a product that will attract above all the suspicion of consumers. It is essential to deconstruct the received ideas around.

In general, the use of tampons conveys the image of a greater ladies’ freedom of movement, it suggests to potential Chinese consumers an easing of the physical constraint that their rules represent.
Making tampons a vector of feminine emancipation, especially by associating its marketing image with female sport, can be an advantageous solution. Sport is indeed synonymous with good health and physical resistance, the exact opposite of diseases in the consumer’s mind; this association of ideas thus counteracts the concerns related to its effects on the body.



The example of Pampers: communication AND information, a double-marketing strategy

Communication around this product could also get a pedagogic aspect, by explaining with more clarity to the consumers the good use to have with it. As such, the Pampers children’s diaper brand is a reference in its field. The Pampers website has been designed to meet the needs of moms: it offers free to users a pregnancy calendar, a pregnancy calculator and a names generator program, and a dedicated space gathering information and advice in response to the questions of young parents. The content of the website is even adjusted according to the age of the toddler, one of the first consumer data collected straight on the homepage.

In the same way, one could very well imagine a tampons’ brand innovating on its website by offering users a calendar calculating the approximate date of their next periods, giving advices against painful menstruation or explaining the influence of the lunar cycle on menstrual cycles. To go further, faced with the concern and ignorance of the users’ majority, brand could dedicate a tab of its website to gather the different symptoms of urinary tract infection, toxic shock, cystitis, mycoses and dysmenorrhoea and their possible treatments, in order to clearly distinguish these cases. An easily accessible information gathered at the same place would reassure consumers and asserts the brand credibility as well as increasing its popularity.

One thing is certain : tampon culture still has a way to go in China! One can then wonder if the menstrual cup would have a better chance of setting up on the Chinese market, or would face the same cultural reticence.


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