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#Awkward! Breaking through the taboos with good design

There are certain subjects that can be… well…. rather uncomfortable to talk about. Rightly or wrongly, they can be classed as a ‘taboo’ topic - something that is just too awkward, too risqué, too embarrassing, or too uncomfortable to be discussed out loud.

In reality though, many of these issues are things that need to be shared and that deserve the air time - especially when it comes to matters of physical and mental health. While they may be regarded as difficult conversations for anyone the core issue directly impacts upon, making sure the channels of communication are open is really important. 

Because, if taboos are to be addressed and things are to change, they need to be talked about! 

And that’s where good design comes in. 

One of the ways to tackle taboos head-on is to make them visible and to start a dialogue around them. A well thought through and presented campaign can send some of the barriers crashing down and in recent years, we’ve been witnessing this more and more, through everything from brand, to content and creatives.

Here are just a few examples:

Speaking up

The #MeToo movement against sexual assault and sexual harassment was started around a decade ago, but it wasn’t until recently that it truly exploded onto the global stage. This surge followed a string of allegations against US producer Harvey Weinstein, with many high profile female figures coming forward to talk about what had happened to them. According to actor Rose McGowan, one of the most prominent figures of the #MeToo movement, its impact can be seen everywhere, with people now speaking up where ever she goes. 

Seeing red

Did you know it wasn’t until 2017 that a UK advert for sanitary towels first depicted menstrual blood? The #BloodNormal campaign by Bodyform used realistic red liquid instead of the infamous blue liquid in the ad. It has since gone on to win numerous industry awards. For Bodyform the campaign was needed, as they believe a large part of the stigma around periods comes from the fact there are no positive representations of them in mainstream culture. 

Let it grow, let it grow

Impactful campaigns can be started by anyone, anywhere. Women from all over the world signed up to the first ever Januhairy, which encourages women to ditch the razor and let their hair grow naturally. The idea was started by a University student who posted on Instagram saying she hopes to raise awareness and promote messaging surrounding positive body image. 

Seeking help

Another highly visible campaign from the past year is Heads Together, an initiative spearheaded by The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and The Duke and Duchess of Sussex. It aims to tackle the stigma associated with mental health. An admission by Prince Harry that he sought counselling for his own mental health has spurred on many other people to share their experiences too. All of which has encouraged conversations and also made businesses address how they might better handle the issue in the workplace.

Getting it covered

Sexual health is another one of those topics that just doesn’t get talked about as much as it should. When the team here at Alive was asked to help with a campaign around sexual health, we jumped at the chance.

Lothian NHS wanted to promote a free online condom postal service, available to 16-24-year olds living in Edinburgh and the Lothians. They wanted to encourage young people to use the service, but without using scare tactics around unwanted pregnancies and STDs.

For the target audience and taboo subject matter, animation was a natural choice, and our design team came up with the character of ‘Willy’ – a penis who is off for a hot date! He can be seen running through Edinburgh in a sequence reminiscent of an iconic scene from the film Trainspotting, before ordering some free condoms from the service on his phone. 

The whole team loved the challenge and to be doing something a bit different to help promote the service. We especially loved that the client was so open to creativity in taking their messages out there, which was exactly what was needed for the target audience. 

Here’s the result:


So, what’s the secret to creating a successful campaign for a taboo subject?

  • Think about the target audience - If you’re going to get across some difficult messages, they need to be presented in the right way. A way that considers the target audience, what they’re like, the language they use, how they relate to things and the communication channels they’re on…..For our Willy campaign, saying Netflix and chill, using emojis, linking to Trainspotting and having Willy flossing at the end were just some of the ways we plugged in to popular culture, with references the target audience would understand.   
  • Get graphic - There are now endless ways to reach and speak to a target audience, and numerous formats that might be considered. Graphics, animation and the emerging area of VR, are all brilliant way to get across awkward, complex or difficult information, in an accessible and eye-catching way…. No amount of words and static images could ever have competed with a Willy physically running down the road, when it comes to grabbing and holding someone’s attention. It allowed us to include even deeper messaging, through both context and the physical and written content.
  • Put an end to fake news – You also need to get your facts straight from the start. Part of tackling a taboo is understanding what objections, myths and inaccuracies are already out there surrounding the topic. Meet these head on and present the real facts, in an authentic and easy to digest way…Encouraging the use of condoms is usually accompanied by warnings. While we pointed out a couple of STDs within the landscape, as a reminder, we didn’t run a standard sexual health scare campaign. It was a much more humorous and unexpected way to get the information across.
  • Nail the basics – Great campaigns don’t happen by accident, and allocating enough time for thinking, planning and testing is crucial. Set SMART objectives from the start so you know exactly what you want to achieve. And never be afraid to test your plans out first, using focus groups or other methods that will provide you with useful insights. This can really help ensure your messaging and concepts are clear, focused and on point…. While the finished Willy animation may have been just a couple of minutes, the work behind the scenes was extensive. The bolder you are in your campaign ideas, often the more research and testing you’ll need to do to get it right. 

One thing is for sure, the host of new communications channels we now have at our fingertips has created many more opportunities when it comes to tackling taboo subjects. There are now limitless ways to reach a target audience and get a conversation started, which is great! As when it comes to battling those taboos, it’s always good to talk. 

Friday, February 01, 2019

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