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#Awkward! Breaking through the taboos with good design

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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.

“The guys at Alive understand the complexities of our business which means we don’t need to explain the detail of every project or design piece – they’re already on it, which keeps things moving and delivers the results we need.”

Emily Stoten — Head of Marketing, Selecta

“I feel like they own and care for the project as much as we do! I would not use anyone else for my creative work and think Alive is ahead of the game.”

Jo Hobbs — Communications Manager

“Thanks for all your help. We are delighted with the campaign, both in terms of the creativity and messaging but also the thought taken over the rollout of the materials. All looks absolutely fabulous!”

Sarah Crowdy — Campaign and Media Officer Communications, South East Water

“We went to ‘Alive’ for ideas on how to run a specific employee program in Europe. Alan and his team were brilliant in coming up with fresh, creative and practical approaches. The team took charge and executed brilliantly. We are pleased with the progress made so far and hope to have the same level of partnership and commitment going forward.”

Sobha Varghese — Tata Consultancy Services

“We had the privilege to work with the Alive team. It was our first time to be involved in creating an animation for our patients within paediatrics. The team were approachable, friendly, creative and very accommodating. Your vision for what you want to create, is at all times acknowledged, appreciated and accommodated by the team. They worked effectively and with great passion towards our project and worked not only alongside health professionals but also our patients who really enjoyed the experience of working with the Alive team. It has given our team the confidence and inspiration to do further projects in the future. We highly recommend Alive and their exceptional team.”

DR ELENI ATHANASAKOS, Lead Paediatric Clinical Scientist — NHS Barts Health

“‘The short animation developed in co-production with clinicians and young people is outstanding! Informative, developmentally appropriate, vitally fun and engaging. We are really grateful for the expertise of the Alive with Ideas team for their innovative approach in building children’s health literacy.'”

Kath Evans — Director of Children’s Nursing at Barts Health

“Our mission was to update our brand visuals to better reflect our innovative and forward-thinking organisation. After receiving numerous pitches from different branding agencies, Alive stood out with their clear passion and understanding of our identity and goals. We thoroughly enjoyed working with the Alive Team to create an engaging new brand that we are immensely proud of.”

Lianne Springer — Communications and Engagement Lead

“Alive wowed us during the pitch process and they didn’t stop wowing us throughout the whole project. Every person we worked with at Alive were so friendly, knowledgeable and clearly passionate about what they do. They have worked with us to really understand what we do and have created a new brand and website that really stands out from our competitors. Thank you!”

Louise Burnard, Head of Marketing and Communications UK — Be | Shaping the Future

“I think the team have done such a brilliant job, particularly with responding to our requests. It's one of the best mental health videos I've ever seen. Very proud to be associated with your exemplary work. Thank you so much.”

Dr Anna Batho — Clinical Psychologist – Critical Care, UCLH

“We have worked with Alan, Caroline and the wider Alive With Ideas team for many years. In that time, they have provided a dedicated service that is second to none. We appreciate their attention to detail and creative approach to bringing our brand, communications and stories to life. And would recommend them to anyone looking for creative communications support.”

Georgia Beech — Internal Communications Specialist, Ocado Group

“This is brilliant. I wanted to give my heartfelt thanks to all of the team who worked on this. You all understood exactly what we wanted to communicate and why, and then managed to do it in a way that was far better than anything I could have imagined. I’m a bit choked up to be honest!”

Sarah Wright, Head of Communications and Campaigns — NEA

“Each time I work with the team, I am always stunned at the effort and creativity that goes into each detail and am always eager for the end result. The team is extremely accommodating and always provide a fresh approach to our projects that elevates our communications materials!”

Alana Khaytin, Communications Specialist — Braskem America

“What I really appreciate about Alive is that they work with us as partners, and care as much about getting it right for our patients as we do.”

Sara Langston, Patient Engagement & Marketing Manager — italk

“Alive are unique in how much they deeply listen and invest in you and your ideas. I have not come across a company that listens as much as they do to ensure your needs are understood and met (actually - they always exceed my needs and expectations). Everyone I recommend Alive to has an equally brilliant experience. When you work with Alive, you are not only getting some genius creativity brought into your life, you are also hanging out with some of the best examples of human beings I’ve ever known.”

Steph Tranter, Hybrid Exec Coach & Psychologist —

“Alive helped us create a video of our response to the floods of winter 2019. Our Chief Officer received messages from all round the country praising us for it and was really pleased with both the video and the response to it.”

Alexander Mills, Communications Manager — South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue

“Alive were professional, friendly and great to work with. Most importantly they were creative, helping us to bring an extremely important safety campaign to life.”

Jack Grasby — South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue

“The (Alive) team were able to creatively pull together and document (in just over 2minutes) everything our service has achieved over the last few months, from thousands of prescriptions deliveries to hundreds of phone calls made to the vulnerable. The final product was so powerful and reflective of what our service has and continues to achieve. It couldn’t have been better received within the service – thanks Alive for once again helping us to communicate our vision!’”

Emma Wright — South Yorkshire & Rescue

“We worked with the team at Alive to create our staff recognition video.
At a time like this, its never been more important to share the amazing work that our staff have done and continue to do on a daily basis under very difficult circumstances. We wanted to shout about this and recognise that when the time came, South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue stepped up to the plate. We didn’t want an ordinary thank you post on social media or a basic email sent out internally, we wanted something special. Enter Alive. ”

Emma Wright — South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue

“This looks amazing - brought a smile to my face scrolling through it :-)”

Jack Ford, Head of Marketing — streamGO

“Our company is fun, we have great brands, but most importantly we’re all about our people – and I wanted an agency who would understand that and help us bring it to life through our website and other comms. Straight away I felt that Alive ‘got’ us and provided the creative inspiration exactly where we needed it, as well as the technical expertise to deliver a well-functioning website.”

Keren McCarron, Head of Corporate Affairs & Communications — KP Snacks

Thank you so much. Incredible work done at incredible speed by incredible people.
Outstanding work as ever and what a turnaround. As for the concepts – wow. These are that good it would be an insult to describe them as just good. It’s a joke, quite frankly. This is exactly the Alive effect I was after. Right now I feel like I am living in an Alive With Ideas wonderland. Thank you!”

Jack Grasby, Campaigns Manager — SYFR

“If you are looking to improve creativity and build teamwork, I highly recommend a session like this for your team. No matter where you are in your creativity journey, a workshop like this can give your team a boost of energy and ideas to invigorate their creative thinking.”

Amy Lilja, IC Manager — Hennepin Healthcare

“Alive were there to help when we were working every hour to respond to the coronavirus outbreak. They gave us the creativity, ideas and support we needed to deliver campaigns which empowered our residents in the most difficult time most of us have ever seen, personally and professionally. The team understood what we needed, worked closely with us and delivered fast without any compromise on quality. Working with Alive has been a joy in the darkest of times and I have no doubt will have helped to save lives. Thanks team x”

Julie Odams, Assistant Director of Communications & Customers — Derbyshire County Council

“We got 'Alive' involved to help us shift mindsets across our organisation and they delivered! Using simple, clear and creative ideas the team have delivered us a campaign which has seen a dramatic increase in idea sharing and development. They’ve also played a significant role in creating a culture of shared success. I wouldn’t hesitate to work with again, in fact, we already are!”

Gavin Buckle — B&Q
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