Blue Lady Logo: More than just a pretty face

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July 18, 2019
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Does she look familiar? If so, it’s because this famous “Blue Lady” has adorned oral contraceptive tablets  distributed worldwide by USAID since the 1960s. And she continues to play an important role today.

USAID first purchased oral contraceptive pills for distribution in family planning programs in 1967 — seven years after the FDA approved them for use in the United States. The pills were distributed globally and proved to be a reliable contraceptive method for women in developing countries. 

But only two years after oral contraceptives were added to family planning programs, the agency ran into a problem. In 1969, USAID changed to a different manufacturer for oral contraceptives. The packaging of the pills also changed – causing disruption among recipients who didn’t recognize or trust the new containers.

Reimert T. Ravenholt, director of USAID’s Office of Population from 1965 to 1979, discussed the challenge in his writings.

“Our first contracts for oral contraceptives in 1967-68 were won by the Wyeth Company, and the Ovral tablets were contained in proprietary packaging. This worked all right for a couple years, until the Norlestrin brand company won the OC (oral contraceptives) bid — which posed an acute problem when the new and different OCs reached the end of the supply line and women who had become accustomed to the Wyeth product reacted negatively and suspiciously to the new and different packages,” Ravenholt said.

Something had to be done to win back the trust of beneficiaries and ensure that future manufacturing changes would not disrupt the use of oral contraceptives.

“We realized we needed to create standard non-proprietary packaging for all OCs to be purchased and distributed by USAID and its grantees,” Ravenholt said.

The idea was to create a standardized package design that could be used on all USAID-purchased oral contraceptives. That way, recipients would always know what type of pill they were taking, that it was authentic, and the agency would not run into problems of trust if they used multiple manufacturers.

To design the logo, Ravenholt turned to Phyllis Piotrow, Executive Director of the Population Crisis Committee (now called Population Action International), a non-profit that worked closely with USAID to implement family planning programs. 

“It is virtually impossible to design a logo that is acceptable to all countries all over the world.” Piotrow explained. “If you just try to imagine a picture of a woman that is not nationality specific, it is incredibly difficult.” 

With the help of market research and a talented graphic designer, Ravenholt and Piotrow ultimately decided that the color blue was the “least objectionable color” and most likely to be accepted by women in varied global settings.

Blue Lady Logo Family Planning Pills
Blue Lady Logo Family Planning Pills
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“For the standard packaging we wanted to picture a young woman taking a pill,” Ravenholt said. “Because we would be distributing these oral contraceptives to virtually every country, we did not wish to picture the user as white, or brown, or black, hence chose the color blue. Then we perfected the way she held a pill between her thumb and forefinger.”

The design was a success. The Blue Lady would become ubiquitous on USAID-funded oral contraceptives and help the agency implement successful family planning programming worldwide.

“With these well-accepted standard-package oral contraceptives, purchased at the low cost of 15 cents per monthly cycle, we were able to offer LDCs (least developed countries) virtually unlimited supplies of free OCs with which to build their family planning programs.”

Today, the Blue Lady Logo is a recognizable symbol all over the world. Last year, the USAID Global Health Supply Chain Program-Procurement and Supply Management (GHSC-PSM) project supported the distribution of more than 21 million packages featuring the Blue Lady – the equivalent of providing one year of contraception to 1.4 million women. GHSC-PSM is the primary vehicle through which USAID procures and provides FP/RH commodities for USAID’s voluntary family planning programs and provides technical assistance to improve supply systems and contraceptive security in developing countries.

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