Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Panty Raid

The New York City subway is not an especially prudish place. In addition to the unflappable readers of romance novels, there are the advertisements, which specialize in double entendre. A mattress company entices riders by promising a comfortable place to “go too far.” A plastic surgeon’s office illustrates breast enhancement with clementines transformed into grapefruits. But last fall, when a young company called Thinx that makes “period underwear” — constructed of special fabric to ensure menstrual blood doesn’t leak or stain — submitted a proposal for ads that employed grapefruit halves (and runny eggs) in an if-Georgia O’Keeffe-painted-food kind of way, the media company that evaluates ads for the MTA balked. You may have heard about this, because it was big news on the internet: “Will the New York City Subway Ban These Ads for Using the Word ‘Period’?” asked Mic, in a post that was widely aggregated and shared with righteous anger on Facebook and Twitter. (“Yes @mta, let’s not suggest that women get periods” and “DEAR NY SUBWAY, THERE WILL BE BLOOD.”) The MTA told the Times that this wasn’t at all the case, that the ads were still in the review process, and that “of course” they would run. “We were hoping to work with the advertiser to refine the copy,” said a spokesperson. But the ins-and-outs of the bureaucratic approval process were really beside the point, because Thinx had experienced what its founder Miki Agrawal said was the third of its five viral moments to date — and in the process had increased its revenue by a factor of 23.

As any casual observer of the Donald Trump campaign can tell you, internet outrage is the fastest route to “earned media” — free publicity — and this is something Agrawal understands intuitively. “Literally, my director of marketing called me sobbing after we spent a month busting our asses working on these ads,” she told me, a month later, scraping soy yogurt from a bowl, perched at her kitchen table in front of a Mac laptop with a prominent Burning Man decal on it. “I was like, sweetheart, I got this.” Agrawal’s apartment is a lofted condo inside an old Catholic church, strewn with succulents and yoga accoutrements. A surfboard sat on a sunny balcony. I’d walked there from the Bedford Avenue L stop, which was by then entirely covered in the grapefruit Thinx ads. Agrawal, who has large brown eyes framed by bangs and the sort of asymmetrical shaved sideburn Skrillex made famous, was wrapped in a plaid blanket over her black crop top and artfully torn leggings. She spoke quickly, intensely, and with her hands. “The good news about the way this world is today is that if there is a good fight to be fought, there are people who will listen to you and write about it. Subject heading: ‘SCANDAL with the MTA’?” Her eyes got wider. “It’s like, Ooh, I’m going to open that email. You know what I mean?”

If Agrawal were a man, her type would be immediately recognizable: She meditates with the app Headspace, she does Crossfit, she has given a TEDx talk, she quotes Steve Jobs and Tim Ferriss. She is self-mythologizing, utterly confident even in situations where she has no good reason to be, and it all serves her exceedingly well. She is a tech bro — except she’s a woman, trying to sell underwear. Or, as she sees it, innovating in the “period space.”

by Noreen Malone, The Cut |  Read more:
Image: Bobby Doherty/New York Magazine