Breaking the Rules for Good

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Myles Lord, Managing Director Creative, DDB Berlin

In advertising, we are often expected by clients and media to conform to certain restrictions regarding content, length, layout, corporate design and editorial guidelines. We are always expected to shape our idea to fit the rules – but sometimes breaking the rules is the idea in itself.

It’s a fact that one in eight women will face a breast cancer diagnosis at some point in their life. An early detection can help save their lives. That is why all women from the age of 20 and above should regularly self-check their breasts. We knew, it would be the smartest thing to creatively use social media to get people’s attention.  

On Women’s Day, March 3, 2016, 17 brave women bared a naked breast on Facebook and Instagram for Pink Ribbon, spreading the message “CHECK IT BEFORE IT’S REMOVED”. Each post asked other users to quickly re-share the posts before they were censored by moderators. Even Pink Ribbon themselves had their post removed for contravening community guidelines. But while the breasts were being removed from social media, the story started to be picked up by many other media outlets – helping to spread the message to almost 30 million people on Women’s Day. All this coverage and social buzz drew people to a special Pink Ribbon page where one could receive more information and a demo video instructing you on how to check your breasts regularly.

When our team came up with this idea, I knew we had something strong in our hands because it was so bold and controversial, but for the right reasons. Germany is a very liberal place when it comes to nudity – that’s why #freethenipple was such a big topic over here. And especially seeing as though Facebook and Instagram happily tolerate topless pictures of men, whilst the slightest hint of a female nipple gets censored or even banned. The great thing about this idea is that it took this inequality and made something positive out of it. But the more we thought about it, the more we realized we were dealing with a self-destructing message – like in the “Mission Impossible” series. We knew our message wouldn’t last long and wouldn’t travel very far – so we needed to broaden our reach and have it uploaded multiple times from multiple sources. This broke another rule of social media – of having one central element that collects all the views and shares and snowballs over time.

There is this old adage that if you’re not nervous, then you’re not doing anything new. Well, we were pretty nervous to be honest (and kept telling ourselves this was a good thing). But, the more people came aboard and made it their idea, the more confident we became.

First, the idea was taken up by a very brave client that spearheaded the social action and even put their entire social presence at risk to make this statement. Brave, too, were the 17 women who got behind the action by posing for the camera and exposing a breast on Facebook and Instagram. (Fun-fact: Initially we asked for 15 women, and the casting agent gave us 17 options. We chose 15, but somehow 17 ladies arrived on the set. “That’s two too many,” said our Art Director, to which the casting agent replied: “They don’t care. They want to be part of this”.)

Then there were the posts made by the celebrities, models, journalists, authors, bloggers, musicians, sportspersons, social influencers and community members, who threw caution to the wind and shared and re-shared our message. At first, we saw a lot of moderation going on and our posts were being culled at a rapid rate. We even discovered that users like activist Jillian York not only got censored, but banned from Facebook for 24 hours. But then, strangely, the moderation started to slow down. And then … stop altogether. It appeared that Facebook and Instagram moderators started to turn a blind eye. For us, this was the first time that we saw Facebook and Instagram make exceptions to their rules – and let the message travel even further. While we continue to see other users’ topless posts being censored, Pink Ribbon’s message prevails.