You may remember last year’s blockbuster “Camp Gyno” ad — a hilarious viral video in which a young girl at camp is the first in her bunk to get her period and declares herself the Camp Gyno, flinging tampons and squirting ketchup in a power-mad rampage cut short by the arrival of a handy, educational menstruation care package. It was quite a debut for HelloFlo, at the time a wildly underfunded, months-old startup founded by entrepreneur Naama Bloom. “‘Camp Gyno’ Ad Is An Amazing Breakthrough In Tampon Advertising!” declared Buzzfeed. “Tiny Tampon Queen Stars in Best Menstrual Marketing Ever!” gushed Jezebel. And it’s probably safe to say that it was the first time the phrase “Like Santa For Your Vagina” ever appeared in Forbes. Within days the video had broken 5 million views and been picked up by everyone from NPR to Fast Company to The Guardian to The Hairpin to Mashable to every person I know on Facebook. There was even a theme song.
One year later, Bloom is back — proving she wasn’t just a one-hit wonder with the hilarious, edgy follow-up “First Moon Party.” After a day it’s already at 2 million views and counting (update: after 2 days, 5.6 million), picking up more admiring press, filling up my Facebook feed and ruining marshmallows forever — and the tide is still rising strong. Eager to maintain our heavy flow of cheap puns, we sent Bloom a flood of questions — what’s a Vagician? Where does one get a uterus piñata? Why Florida? — and true to form, she dispensed with it neatly, efficiently and without a drop of shame. And so, dear reader, we present to you The HelloFlo Interview. Soak it up.
How did you come up with the concept for “First Moon Party”? Is that even a thing?
About 10 months ago I got an email from a single dad who threw a small dinner for his daughter when she got her period. He had all the women in her life — grandmother, aunts, close friends — take her out and celebrate her. I thought the story was so sweet, so I posted about it on the HelloFlo Facebook page. Most people thought it was sweet, some said they’d be mortified, and others mentioned having had similar parties. So I started investigating and learned that First Moon Parties are a thing. When I got in the room with Pete and Jamie (the co-writer/directors) I told them about First Moon Parties. They were fascinated and we immediately started brainstorming ways to make it funny and relatable.
Who wrote it? It is PACKED with jokes. Any pro knows that’s not easy to do in a 2:20 video. (I can’t pick my favorites but I LOL’d at Bobbing for Ovaries, the Vagician, the marshmallow fountain, and dad jumping out of the cake.)
It was written and directed by Jamie T. McCelland and Pete Marquis — the same two guys that wrote and directed Camp Gyno. They are amazing. Obviously I was involved in the process — we had multiple rounds with the script and spent a lot of time “solving the problems.” For instance, it was important to talk about the Period Starter Kit but more important was the insight that parents often wait too long to talk to their daughters — if you wait until your child is 11 or 12, she often doesn’t want to talk to you anymore. We wanted to show that in a relatable and funny way while also suggesting our Starter Kit as the tool that will help you with the talk. I would say that in the creative process my role was to provide the insights — the truisms of the relationship and the puberty experience for girls. It’s a collaborative process that involves a lot of check-ins with the writers.
“Women are over the stigma and shame associated with our bodies.”
Both your leading-young-lady characters are stubborn, impatient, willful, enterprising, and resolute. Are they…you? (You need to be most of the above to be a menstruation entrepreneur.)
Well, there are many things I identify with in both of the characters. First of all, what girl hasn’t been embarrassed by her parents at some point? And when you’re an adolescent, it seems like everything your parents do is embarrassing. You just try to give them as little information as possible. But now that I’m a mom — to a much younger daughter than the character in the video — I can identify with how difficult it is to just let your child be and let them make their own mistakes. The impulse to course-correct as a parent is one I routinely have to fight.
As for stubborn, willful and enterprising — well, all I can say is that basically every investor I spoke to turned me down and didn’t think the way we market and sell products to women needed to change. They didn’t see a business in what I was doing. And while all those rejections were disheartening, I didn’t give up. The investors said no so I went knocking on even bigger doors. And I think that one of the reasons that P&G believed in my business because I was stubborn, willful and enterprising. I wouldn’t let them say no to me. So they had no choice but to say yes.
Let’s switch to the Mom character. She’s less Elyse Keaton in Family Ties than Cameron Diaz in Bad Teacher. That’s a bold move for moms in AdLand, who are usually consigned to cheerfully smelling fresh laundry and/or stroking your hair and saying “Aw, honey.” Why did you decide to make your mom devious and sneaky? (But also, we want her to plan our next party.)
Well, we played with that character a lot. I think their dynamic is what makes it work — the mom isn’t a pushover and she’s also not mean. She’s got a sense of humor and gets carried away. Also, she’s trying to stay relevant in her daughter’s life. She’s definitely a caricature but so much of what motivates her is realistic — deep down she’s just want to celebrate and get her daughter to talk to her. Once you have a child you don’t stop being a complicated person. I think the video really captures that. And Marriette Booth, the actor who played the mom was incredible. Her comedic timing and ability to improvise really brought the character to life.
When I first started HelloFlo I remember speaking to a dad whose daughter had just gotten her period. He told me the experience was so strange — she was embarrassed by all of it and he wanted to acknowledge it. I’ll never forget what he said “We just had a Bat Mitzvah and this seems like a more accurate marker of her entrance to womanhood.”
And her daughter? How did you find her? What were you looking for?
We had a casting session for the mom and the daughter. We probably saw about 25 auditions for each character. The Katie character was played by Annabelle Zasowski. We loved her first audition. There were a few others we really liked as well. But when we had the call backs we were looking for an actor with a range — she needed to be sympathetic but also have a streak of mean girl in her. If she couldn’t “give attitude” to the mom, the mom character would have just seemed evil. During the call backs we also paired up mother daughter combinations to see chemistry. She and Marriette just worked really well together.
It was a very different process for Camp Gyno — first of all, it was just one character that we needed to cast. But mostly the issue with Camp Gyno was that we were unproven and asking these girls to take a real chance. As well, since we were casting the girl who was first to get her period she needed to be a bit younger. It was very hard to find a younger girl who understood the jokes and could play them off. We absolutely lucked out with Macy McGrail who was our Camp Gyno.
“Parents often wait too long to talk to their daughters — if you wait until your child is 11 or 12, she often doesn’t want to talk to you anymore.”
I know last year’s budget was $6000. Can you disclose this year’s? Giant cakes for your dad dressed in red spandex to jump out of don’t pay for themselves.
Much more — can’t disclose but can say it was a significantly higher budget.
Where’d you get the red marshmallow fountain?
Regular old chocolate fondue fountain but we used red chocolate. The Production Designer, Ally Nesmith, was responsible for that — and the uterus piñata among many other things.
Touché. This video has the same cheeky, subversive bite of the Camp Gyno vid — yet you did it in conjunction with Proctor & Gamble, who are sponsoring your Period Starter Kit. Was it different working with a brand? Was there a lot of back-and-forth? Were there any great jokes that couldn’t be used (like, say, certain bodily matter that gets excreted as waste).
I am so incredibly honored to be working with a market leader like Proctor & Gamble’s Always brand on this promotion. They really were a dream to work with. When we brought them the script they asked great questions and provided valuable feedback about what would and wouldn’t resonate with girls and parents. In the first version of the script, the mother believed that Katie really did get her period — she was fooled too. My partner in crime at P&G really questioned whether or not a mother would fall for this kind of trick — she pushed us to make sure that the characters stayed funny…and smart.
When looking for partners, I wanted to find someone who was committed to giving girls the tools they need to feel comfortable and secure during puberty and beyond, and after spending time with them I can say they really care about this space.
“Getting an investor to write you a check is not success. Success is building something that matters and that has staying power.”
Back to the challenges of being Menstruation Entrepreneur. You’ve now released two gangbusters viral hits which proves that you’ve struck a real chord — and identified a wildly under-served market. That must mean investors are flinging cash at you from all sides, right?
It’s funny you say that. Last year after Camp Gyno I thought I had a pretty good shot at raising money but the investor meetings were one rejection after another — there were a few bright spots — but it was generally not going well. After I got over being depressed about the rejection I decided I was going to put all the energy I was spending on fundraising into my business. I just had to be much scrappier than someone who had cash in the bank.
I spent the past year figuring out how to make the business profitable and how to scale it. It was hard. I have a very small — and unpaid — team of people around me who have literally poured their hearts and souls into this business because they believe in me and the vision. This team and my customers are my real investors — they are why I keep building. I would be lying if I told you I didn’t want someone to hand me a check to keep pursuing this vision but I’ve come to realize that getting an investor to write you a check is not success. Success is building something that matters and that has staying power.
People thought I was crazy when I told them what I was building. I knew there was a need both from a product standpoint and an emotional one. Women are over the stigma and shame associated with our bodies. I knew the world was ready for some straight talk and if I could be the brand that brings it to them, I’m thrilled.
What’s a Vagician?
I have absolutely no idea but Pete came up with that line on set and I almost cried from laughter.
What’s next for HelloFlo?
In addition to launching the video, we also redesigned our site. We added three new kits in addition to the Period Starter Kit — one of the kits is for new moms. It’s the package I would have wanted when I got home from the hospital after having my children. It’s not onesies for the kids, it’s products for mom. There are nursing pads from Bamboobies, Dear Kate underwear which are leak resistant, Always Heavy Pads — of course, and then things like hair ties, SW Basics lotion and lip balm, tea, candy, you get the picture. And I’m proud to say most of the products are made by women owned companies. We hope to add more kits that celebrate and support women through transitions soon.
As well, we now have amazing expert content written by two brilliant doctors — Dr. Cara Natterson, Pediatrician and Author of The Care and Keeping of You and Dr. Sheryl Ross, OB/GYN and also blogger and fellow entrepreneur — she has her own vitamin line for women.
Our mission has evolved significantly from simplifying your period. We want to be the place women turn for trusted information and curated products for their health.
Even in Florida?
Especially in Florida.
…and just in case you forgot how great it was, here’s “Camp Gyno,” still flowing strong.