One breakthrough was in 1982, when actress Brenda Vaccaro risked ridicule by doing commercials for Playtex Tampons. "It has a plastic applicator as opposed to cardboard," she said. "I think that's important."
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No one talks about the science of these products anymore. These days, they are advertised through humor. One of the most hilarious has been from U.K.-based Bodyform. It posted a YouTube reply to a man who complained on Facebook that the company's products were ridiculously advertised, showing women taking part in all sorts of activities because they were wearing Bodyform's feminine products.
Faux-CEO Caroline Williams (pouring herself a drink of blue liquid), admits he's right. It's all a lie. "I'm sorry to tell you this, but there's no such thing as a happy period," she confesses.
Williams then reveals archival material showing the failure of past attempts to advertise the truth about menstruation. That video has topped 5 million hits since posting last October.
Sometimes, though, the most successful marketing may not need to show the product, have blue liquid or involve any dialogue at all. This recent Russian commercial for Tampax promoting its "leak proof" capabilities involves two women and one shark. While being a tad graphic, it gets to the point quickly. If that doesn't move product, nothing will.
—By CNBC's Jane Wells. Follow her on Twitter: @janewells