Leaky moms, smelly poop: How humor helps tackle taboo topics

'Camp Gyno' ad about periods goes viral
'Camp Gyno' ad about periods goes viral

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    'Camp Gyno' ad about periods goes viral

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'Camp Gyno' ad about periods goes viral 02:00

Story highlights

  • Humor is being used in videos to bring attention to topics women don't often talk about
  • The challenge in using humor, experts say, is making it clear you are not laughing at women but with them

Kelly Wallace is CNN's digital correspondent and editor-at-large covering family, career and life. Read her other columns and follow her reports at CNN Parents and on Twitter @kellywallacetv.

(CNN)If you thought peeing in your pants was just an issue for toddlers, a hilarious new video will quickly show you that is not the case.

The video is the latest sensation from the women's health site HelloFlo, and after watching it, you may think differently the next time you see a mom holding her legs together every time she laughs or coughs (something this mother of two has to do regularly). If you're the mom in this scenario, you may take comfort in knowing you are not alone when trying not to wet your pants.
    This involuntary leaking condition post-pregnancy -- called urinary incontinence -- affects many women, though you might not know it. It's unlikely that a clinical, or informational, video on the condition would get on your radar to make you any more aware of the issue, so HelloFlo decided to shake things up -- by making you laugh.
    The company, which has recently been acquired by SheKnows Media, uses humor in every video it produces.
    Naama Bloom is the founder of HelloFlo.
    Naama Bloom, the founder of HelloFlo, sees humor as a way to open conversations among women about health topics no one likes to talk about but everyone experiences.
    "It's like an ice breaker," said Bloom, who is also senior vice president of integrated marketing for SheKnows Media. "I think the thing, at least with women, is that when we get together with our friends and we actually open (up), we laugh and we giggle about this stuff." She wanted to tap into those private conversations that women are already having and make them public.
    Bloom has a lot of experience in making women laugh. Some of her earlier work went viral and encouraged women of all ages to talk more freely about topics such as menstruation.
    Her first hit, "Camp Gyno" -- which we reported on in 2013 -- was about a girl who gets her period at summer camp. It has been viewed more than 11 million times on YouTube alone. "Half Moon Party," about a girl pretending to get her first period, was her most successful video yet, with more than 36 million views on YouTube.
    Her newest video also focuses on menstruation. We meet the character "Aunt Flo," who makes her presence known to a young girl hoping to get her period soon. A young couple worries that "Flo" is a few days late after they have been sexually active, and a woman prepares for menopause by saying goodbye to "Flo," whom she has known for many years.
    A lot of these transition moments in a woman's life are clumsy and awkward, said Bloom. "If you laugh at it and you see that other people are going through it, it doesn't feel quite so isolating."

    'The vagina can be in the joke, but it can't be the joke'

    There are definitely challenges in using humor to bring attention to an issue or a product, said Julie Cottineau, author of "Twist: How Fresh Perspectives Build Breakthrough Brands."
    "You have to make it clear from the very beginning that you're laughing with your target and not at them, and that's a fine line. It's easy to get that wrong," said Cottineau, former vice president of brand for Virgin Management and founder of Brand School, a premiere online program for small businesses, nonprofits and entrepreneurs.
    She stresses the need for empathy. "You have to know what they're really thinking. I think you have to use the language and the jokes that they would use in conversations with their best girlfriends."
    Bloom wholeheartedly agrees, and while she thinks humor is great, she says it can also be very dangerous. "It's never about laughing about someone. It's always about laughing at a shared experience."
    During the development of "Camp Gyno," Bloom gave some wise words to her creative team. "The vagina can be in the joke, but it can't be the joke," she told them. "You can reference something, but you can't make fun of it."

    Bringing attention to taboo topics

    Cottineau adds that humor works best when it has some purpose in advancing an issue. She uses the 2013 video advertisement for Poo-pourri as a case study in her brand school.
    The advertisement showcases a debutante-like woman, with her pearls and crinoline-lined dress, talking about the huge poop she just did and the quandary over what to do about the smell that lingers after you have a massive bowel movement at work or at your boyfriend's house.
    "We use that as a case study, because I think by showing this woman who is somebody who would never admit to pooping because she's very proper ... it defuses the situation for the rest of us," Cottineau said. "By portraying sort of the last person that you would expect to see on the toilet talking about poop, they're making it clear that it's OK for the rest of us to talk about it and think about it."
    An unusual approach is also used in the video for the Squatty Potty. The advertisement uses a unicorn and the "rainbow poop" it produces to call attention to improper toilet posture and the best position for the healthiest bowel movements.
    "They're talking about colons and what's really actually helping keep your colon healthy, but I don't think people would listen to them if they had done it straight on," Cottineau said. "I think they had to go really over the top to make a subject that's kind of taboo seem like one that we should pay attention to."
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    At a time when people are bombarded with so many messages and images, bringing attention to taboo topics is no easy task. But the universal appeal is that these are stories and characters everyone can identify with.
    "You want to connect to a character and be able to see it through their eyes and then understand how that can help you process what's going on in your own life," Bloom said. "So I think that's why videos work, just because you have an ability to tell stories."
    How much do you think humor can help when it comes to sparking conversation about difficult topics? Share your thoughts with Kelly Wallace on Twitter @kellywallacetv.