Lisa Topol Shares the Insights that Went into ‘How a New Generation Thinx’

September 30, 2022

Lisa Topol Shares the Insights that Went into ‘How a New Generation Thinx’

Anthony Vagnoni

OBERLAND’s first spots for Thinx, the line of sustainable period underwear, broke in the summer of 2022 and were an instant hit. Pamela Adlon, the acclaimed writer, director and star of the FX series “Better Things,” chose the work for her ad-directing debut, and was as passionate about the brand as the agency team. Together, OBERLAND and Adlon crafted a set of ads that resulted in epic surges in sales and website visits after the first two spots, “Saved by Sister” (for Thinx Teens™) and “Moon Landing,” debuted.

Lisa Topol, Managing Partner & Executive Creative Director, led the OBERLAND creative team. She shares what went into the work, and why it rose above the din of the cliché-ridden feminine products category.

So give us some insight into how we came up with the campaign.

Like all breakthrough work, it starts with a smart insight and brief. 

Something we hit on was this notion that we live with a very binary choice for period care, and there are no good options. Essentially, you have pads and you have tampons, and that's it. And that’s all it’s been for an unbearably long time.  

Another interesting insight was how so many brands will tell you, ‘We’re going to make your period so much better.’ But that doesn’t ring as very honest. Nobody loves their periods. And nobody loves having to take care of their periods.  So Thinx isn’t really about making periods  better, it's about finding better choices to make them more tolerable, which I think is very real.  And that's the crux of the brief. 

When I started my career, I was quite insistent on avoiding women's products  because I didn’t want to be pigeonholed as women often were. But once I established myself as a creative, my thinking changed. It became, ‘Well, I do want to work on women's products, because I want to change them.’ I want to change how we talk about them, and how we view them. 

That started with things I did like U by Kotex, where the approach was to change everything, from the packaging to the silliness of blue liquids in TV commercials. And we were the first brand to do that.

How did personal experience inform or guide this work? 

Working on Thinx was very personal – and not just for me, but basically for everyone who worked on it. We all felt this crazy, close affinity to the product; it meant something to us that it existed. It was progressive. It was sustainable,  And It stood against the status quo. So a huge  part of the excitement was to help introduce more teens and adults to a product that could genuinely make something that was shitty a little better.

It also very quickly took me to my own experiences. And I will say that basically every spot is based on something that happened to me or a member of the team. Like Homer Simpson said, “It’s funny because it’s true.”  

I had horrible periods; horrible, life-changing periods. And I always struggled with it, it always made me anxious. And when Thinx came out, I thought, ‘Wait a minute – this is like my savior!’  I can put these on and I'm not going to have to be terrified of bleeding through the chair at a Super Bowl presentation for a commercial – which happened. Or having my friends and partners always on the lookout for furniture I might have ruined.

So Thinx was truly life changing for me. But I was also very pissed, because it happened so late in my period life. I went through almost all of it without the benefit of Thinx. And that's where the idea for the first spot we concepted, “Moon Landing”,  sprouted; it’s the realization that people  in menopause, who are finished with their periods or about to be done with theirs, would view Thinx, and be a little annoyed it took so damn long to make them. . 

From there, we quickly realized there’s an epiphany for people having their period no matter what generation they belong to – from the first period to the last. This is a discovery they can all have together. And that’s where the idea of the tag, ‘How a New Generation Thinx,’ came from. Whether you’re an older person, or you’re a teen just getting your period, Thinx is something that changes all of our lives, at any age. It can change the way you think, and the way you do things. And it sort of offered itself up to these really fun, beautiful and honest interactions between those generations, sharing the discovery of this product. 

Is that how the depictions of women in the campaign was kept honest, and expanded to include multiple generations? 

Yep. We moved away from just people  in menopause and I thought about what other experiences I had with my mom with my sisters. Because periods become a huge part of our  lives with each other.  And I started to think of other things that happened, like the time I tried to insert my first tampon and I thought my vagina was broken because I couldn’t insert it. And I was crying and crying. And then I realized, it’s actually pretty funny; moms desperately trying to help their daughters with products that are hard to use and scary to use. And yet, here’s Thinx, which makes it so much easier. 

That became the inspiration for "Saved by the Sister." I had an older sister, and while we didn’t have Thinx at the time, I remember her laughing at me. And again, that relationship that sisters have with their periods became a very real thing. And so that spot is inspired by all of that.

The beauty of these spots is that they’re so utterly and universally relatable to people  of all ages, because we all have moments like this. We’ve all struggled with this binary choice of pads and tampons and trying to find the best solution, where maybe there really wasn't one. And here’s this new product that changes the conversation. 

What did Pamela Adlon bring to this? Why her?

Initially I knew her from other shows, like “Californication," and  not from “Better Things.” And when I wrote the scripts, I envisioned these real moments of mothers and daughters, with some intergenerational talk about their periods. And our strategist said, “You should watch ‘Better Things.’ These really remind me of her attitude, her style and her show.” And I just stayed up and watched and watched and watched, and it became one of my favorite shows ever. I totally related. And I loved her approach.  And as I watched, I thought,, ‘My god, these feel like what we just put down on paper. They feel like they could have been her show – that she could have done these.’ 

So when it was time to choose a director, I told our head of production the campaign needed to be directed by Pamela Adlon. She was made to do these; she understands so perfectly and inherently what we're trying to do, and she speaks so beautifully and  honestly about periods in the course of the show. She explores the exact topic in several episodes, and does it with such depth, deftness and humor that it was hard to imagine anybody else doing it.

And lo and behold, she connected to the campaign  the same way that we did. And she’s such a fan of the brand, she and her daughters love them. And she told us how much she loves what they do for women. And I think because of that deep personal connection, it really resonated with her tone of voice. It was a mutual discovery that we both felt the same about: that she and this project were a perfect match. 

And so lucky for us, she decided to make these her first commercials ever. And when you watch them, I get this feeling that nobody else could have done them. They feel like her. You can sense her touch all over the work. And the set reflected that attitude – it was the most fun and inclusive set I’ve ever been on. Everything about it, from the way she talked to the actors to the way she worked with us, was relaxed in a way we’re not used to. No snobbery, no bratty-ness, just wanting to make the best spots, to make everyone feel comfortable in the process and to hit on those really funny truths. 

Now about that photo of the two of you sporting pairs of Thinx for hats? 

There was this vibe that everyone on her crew really cared about and liked each other. It seeped into everything we did. So the shoot itself was really fun. And so when I brought a few extra pairs over to place on our head for some photos, neither of us blinked. Of course we should wear them as hats.  It was fun. It’s the kind of stuff kids do. 

She also did something else that was really funny, and reflected the honesty of the spots and the whole process that went into making them. In one of the spots, the mom character is seen wearing her pair of Thinx, checking herself out in the mirror to see how they look. And to make her more comfortable, Pamela took off her own pants while directing her. And that says a lot about the attitude we all brought to this. It was about creating this sort of fun, disarming, inclusive and embracing mood on set, and it came through in the work. I can’t imagine that happening on any other set I’ve been on, especially in this category. That says a lot.

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