Have you ever tried to suppress a yawn, on a train, while your fellow passengers look on in horror as your face contorts under the pressure? You try to flap it away, you try to swallow it, but in the end, it's less painful for everyone if you just let it out. This happens every time I cross paths with a fellow brunette, whose main defining feature is her jaws, which are locked into a permanent state of fatigue.
Thankfully, I can't tell if she has morning breath as the lady in question is posing on an advert for a liquid iron supplement. To the right of her hand (always politely held in front of her open mouth and conveniently placed to hide any ensuing double chins) the caption reads 'Are you tired of being tired?'. Perhaps you too have felt your facial muscles twitch when the Floradix Lady appears around the bend of a tunnel or trails up an escalator.
The ad has riled up Reddit users and even spawned its own t shirt with the caption 'Floradix made me woke'.
Hello @FloradixUK - I see your advert everywhere, it's like living in a Floradix Universe. I'm curious to know how much you've spent wallpapering #London !? #TiredOfFloradix @TimeOutLondon @Londonist @TfL pic.twitter.com/81FcElgzyx— David Harding (@davidhardingUK) March 3, 2018
"I literally yawn every time I see one!"
"The Monument exit out of bank station from the Northern line had these lining the walls the whole way while I worked nearly two years ago, it was impossible for me to walk through there without yawning pretty much the entire length of the corridor even when I was well-rested and feeling energetic, I absolutely hated it." The words of one unfortunate Reddit user on a thread about the ad, which attracted more than 100 comments.
"I literally yawn every time I see one! 'Are you tired of being tired?' NOW I am!" says Londonist contributor Hari Mountford. "I actually went out and got iron tablets the other day, so your old mate did her job," says another lethargic Tweeter.
"I try to resist the poster's energy-draining call"
It's widely accepted that yawning is contagious. We perform it after coming down with a weird case of spontaneous empathy with our fellow human beings. Hence you might sometimes notice a yawn spread down a tube carriage like a Mexican wave, flailing arms replaced by gaping mouths. (It's a shame the empathy yawn reflex doesn't kick in for something useful like helping people with heavy luggage or giving up your seat to the elderly).
No-one likes to think their behaviour can be manipulated by an advert, yet this portrayal of burnt-out everywoman seems to be doing the trick. According to Prism, the design agency behind the ad, the Tired of being Tired campaign has increased sales of Floradix by 20%. And this monetisation of the female yawn is precisely why I try to resist the poster's energy-draining call.
"Without it I'm foggy, exhausted, and weak... I could fall asleep at any moment"
What even is this yawn-inducing poster advertising? Floradix is a best selling iron supplement from German pharmaceutical company Salus-Haus, which began flooding health food store shelves back in the 1960s. Back then Floradix was associated with high performing athletes, many of whom were sponsored by the tonic in the early 2000s. It's still recommended by wellness gurus to this day.
"I've been taking this Floradix Liquid Iron supplement for the past 12 years leading up to my period and throughout, and I notice such a difference in my energy levels and mental focus, Says raw food nutritionist Sophie Jaffe, "My lifestyle is go, go, go, and I tend to be anaemic, especially around my period — and without this, I'm foggy, exhausted, and weak, and I feel like I could fall asleep at any moment."
With such high praise, I thought I'd try it myself. "It's five times more effective if you take it with orange juice or something citrus-y," says my friendly Holland & Barrett cashier. The taste is fruitier than expected and slightly syrupy in texture – like a liquor but with a metallic aftertaste.
@KAMalcolmson There's a Floradix advert in tube stations with a yawning lady on it that really reminds me of you.— Bethany (@megabeff) March 27, 2014
Though today's ad doesn't hint at the kind of lifestyle that would lead to an iron deficiency, it's widely accepted that vegetarians and women who are pregnant or have heavy periods are most at risk. However, the NHS says we should be able to meet our iron requirements by diet alone and taking too much (over 20mg) can lead to constipation, vomiting and stomach pain.
The ad was investigated over false health claims back in 2014 but the Advertising Standards Agency found the wording didn't violate any rules. Salus-Haus has an annual turnover of £85 million.
"Are you a woman? Are you weak? Are you tired? Let's fix you!"
Dr Dimitrios Tsivrikos, a business and consumer psychologist at University College London takes to task the use of a yawning female as the main image. "I'm not a big fan of ads that promise too much in terms of lifestyle and wellbeing," he says, "From a pharmaceutical perspective, I feel there is a need to look after consumers instead of selling hope to people and playing on their pain.
"If you're really tired, we should be looking into why you're tired before jumping to a quick fix potion."
Additionally he says the ad's premise — Are you a woman? Are you weak? Are you tired? Let's fix you! doesn't sit well with him. "Women are strong, independent hard workers. It's not necessarily a nice signal to send out to women."
The tube sees a daily footfall of more than five million passengers and has even been creepily described as "The Engagement Zone" in a study by Exterion Media, the private equity firm managing TfL's advertising contract. So while the London Underground might be a source of angst for many, it's a goldmine for advertisers.
Dr Tsivrikos, says the success of this ad isn't that we copy the Floradix lady, it's that we relate to her. "The tube context is really relevant," he says, :"People will see the ad on their way to and from work. People who are faced with the obstacles of travelling through the city and the toughness of London living. And who are naturally going to be tired at this time." In academic-speak this is known as contextual similarity. Essentially, what Tsivrikos is saying is the tube is a miserable place, therefore a clever tube advert isn't aspirational, it's a reflection of reality to get you to relate to a feeling which will then encourage you to part ways with your hard-earned cash.
So what can you do to arm yourself against the curse of the contagious yawn?
Tsivrikos says it can be tough, especially when as a commuter, you are hardwired to want to look at anything that isn't your fellow passengers. "As consumers we need to be developing strategies that protect us from these purchases we don't need," says Tsivrikos, whether that means bringing your own content, or simply recognising the ad for what it is. There is one thing we can learn from the Floradix lady. To wear your yawns loud and proud, as according to studies, stifling a yawn only increases the urge to let it out.
The amount of iron you need is:
- 8.7mg a day for men over 18
- 14.8mg a day for women aged 19 to 50
- 8.7mg a day for women over 50
Both Salus-Haus and Prism Advertising declined to comment for this article.