Nobody wants to talk about urinary incontinence, I’m told by a brand peddling expensive pelvic-floor trainers; as a result, the approximately one in four women who will experience uncontrolled leakage in their lifetimes may suffer in embarrassed silence. Well, no more! Said brand plans to put an end to the stigma via splashy advertising, and I do mean that literally. “Women’s tech” company Elvie has erected a billboard in London that splashes water on passersby as if it were pee in an effort to bring incontinence “out of the shadows and into the spotlight,” Elvie chief marketing officer Aoife Nally said in a statement to AdWeek. Mission accomplished, I think.
Elvie’s ad features Megan Burns, a 28-year-old whose doctor reportedly recommended tampons to curb postpartum incontinence during exercise. This advice did not initially strike me as medically sound — people do not pee out of their vaginas — but according to the NHS, a tampon “puts pressure on the neck of your bladder to stop leaks on exertion” and can help with uncontrolled bursts of urination. According to AdWeek, Elvie rolled out the campaign two weeks after TikTok removed a video of a fitness influencer leaking while lifting, labeling it graphic content. Emblazoned with the slogan “Leaks happen … but they don’t have to,” the 20-foot billboard is rigged so that water rains down from between Burns’s legs, gently sprinkling pedestrians below. The whole thing is reportedly part of a larger campaign that will feature real-life stories from people who have experienced incontinence.
Which is, again, an exceedingly common condition, which may be treated through behavioral adjustments, pelvic-floor exercises, medication, or surgery. Incontinence can result from pregnancy, from childbirth, from urinary tract infections, from menopause, from prostate cancer, from the simple fact of aging, even from a forceful sneeze. The list goes on, but suffice it to say that involuntary bladder leakage is just another function of having a body. The TikTok police should keep that in mind before they smash the censor button. Still, I am not convinced that getting peed on by a giant advertisement is the strongest first step toward fostering a more thoughtful and sensitive conversation on the topic of incontinence. I am also not convinced that whoever designed this ad has an accurate understanding of female anatomy; the urethra is not a showerhead. Nonetheless, Nally’s statement explains that “we hope it will encourage women to start speaking out about the issue and seek the help they need to solve the problem. Elvie’s goal is to empower and enable women to achieve everything their bodies are capable of.”
And also, to sell them a $199 pelvic floor trainer. Cheers!