Have you ever wondered about the history of the barf bag? Neither have I… until a few days ago, when I watched a 13-minute documentary produced by Dramamine about those life-saving vomit receptacles.

The Last Barf Bag: Bidding Farewell to an American Icon celebrates the multi-decade legacy of a common feature of travel, one that is all too familiar to the millions of people who suffer from motion sickness. The film was created by FCB Chicago and directed by the filmmaking collective Sunny Sixteen over the course of a few weeks earlier this year. 

The documentary was released to coincide with Dramamine’s 75th anniversary — which just so happens to be the same year the barf bag debuted.

It explores the extensive archives of three barf bag collectors, delving into how they accumulated their collections and why Dramamine’s continued usage has diminished their importance in the grander scheme of things. 

The Last Barf Bag is equal parts bizarre, sincere, funny and poignant. The collectors gleefully expound on the artistic and cultural importance of barf bags, noting how designs and functions differ across airlines and countries. One collector even unfolds a barf bag that found its way onto the Space Shuttle.

The interviewees take pains to explain why Prestige Consumer Healthcare, the manufacturer of Dramamine, should care about the potential extinction of barf bags. “Your product works well, but we wonder if it maybe works a little too well,” the collectors wrote — on a barf bag, naturally — to Frank Paukowits, the senior marketing director at Dramamine.

Since Prestige bought Dramamine in 2010, the brand has seized 60% of the motion sickness market. Its success has come at the expense of barf bags, which have been utilized less as more people keep their stomachs settled.

Rather than dancing on the grave of a vanquished foe, Dramamine decided to celebrate the barf bag by funding the documentary. Prestige senior brand manager Erica Nesbitt said that the brand was moved by the passion of the barf bag community, regardless of any potential negative connotation.

Dramamine has itself embarked on a reputation revamp. Over the past year, the brand has adjusted its marketing strategy to be more lighthearted in nature, increasingly focusing on its ability to mitigate the stresses and anxieties of motion sickness.

“We thought this was a great opportunity to insert ourselves into a larger cultural conversation and surprise consumers with something that they’re not expecting — like, of course they’re not expecting us to try to save the barf bags,” Nesbitt said. “We felt like it was the right time. It made sense for where we’re moving as a brand and it all came together.”

Beyond the documentary, Dramamine is taking steps to ward off the extinction of barf bags. Last week, it hosted a pop-up activation in New York City to preview the film, display the barf bag collections and sell off repurposed barf bags. The brand also collaborated with artist Jessie Maxwell Bearden on a one-of-a-kind puffer jacket made out of barf bags. Those interested in the custom-made apparel can visit the campaign website at noon on April 17 for a chance to buy the jacket for $7.50.

The Last Barf Bag documentary art
Image used with permission.

Going forward, Nesbitt said Dramamine is committed to differentiating itself from the often crowded and not as well-regulated supplement space. This means introducing products that add ginger to provide a more pleasant taste.

The goal is for consumers to recognize the brand as a trusted companion for motion sickness, she added. To that end, look for another consumer-focused activation next month.