Thought Leadership

How Nurofen and McCann are closing the Gender Pain Gap

McCann’s ‘Go Hug* Yourself’ event highlights the importance of Nurofen’s See My Pain campaign in closing the gender pain gap

Georgie Moreton

Deputy Editor, BITE Creativebrief


This year, International Women’s Day (IWD) was met with widespread cynicism when the corporate theme of ‘embrace equity’ was announced. Not everyone wanted to share pictures hugging themselves to #embraceequity and demonstrate their commitment to fair, equitable opportunities. While there’s no doubt even amongst IWD critics that equity is an important theme, the performative display can equally appear symbolic of the ongoing dismissal of female issues and performative feminism.

Yet IWD remains an important opportunity to highlight some of the striking injustices that women still face. The Gender Pay Gap bot was back for another year exposing any company that displayed empty IWD messages of support, a CPB campaign highlighted the double standards of commonly used sexist language, Durex spotlighted a sexual pleasure gap and McCann and Nurofen highlighted the impact of medical misogyny and the need to close the ‘Gender Pain Gap’. 

People feel isolated by dismissals of pain, believe what they hear and think they are alone. Showing there is community drives change.

Ruth Boulter, Creative Director at McCann London

Two weeks after IWD, highlighting the fact that gender-based issues can not be solved in a single day, McCann hosted its IWD event with Nurofen, ‘Go Hug* Yourself’. The event brought together a panel of inspirational leaders to discuss women’s health and wellbeing and explore the unique opportunity the creative industries have to change the narrative for women. 

A panel session hosted by McCann London CEO Polly McMorrow and Creativebrief Editorial Director Nicola Kemp comprised of women passionate about taking action; Deborah Williams, Founder of The Women’s Association, Ruth Boulter, Creative Director at McCann London, Ipek Erel, Senior Planner at McCann London and Rose Gell, Category Manager at Nurofen.

See My Pain

Nurofen’s See My Pain brand platform and campaign centres around a simple truth; that women’s pain has been invisible for far too long. 1 in 6 women experience severe pain every day and yet over half (56%) of women say they felt their pain was ignored or dismissed. Nurofen is on a mission to change this; to validate women’s experiences and to help close the gender pain gap.

To do this the brand is working with McCann to amplify the voices of real women and their pain stories, as well as pushing for meaningful industry change. “Driving awareness is the bare minimum, going beyond awareness is the main challenge,” explained Rose Gell, Category Manager at Nurofen.

The brand aims to drive change in three key areas. The first is through research with both health professionals to explore where unconscious biases come from to quash them in training. As well as working with consumers to study pain in adolescent females. The second is focused on training and educating health professionals to recognise and actively fight biases. And finally through product, by creating bespoke female-focused solutions to actively ease pain. 

How do I live up to expectations? Do I assimilate and match their style? It takes a lot of confidence to do your own thing.

Ipek Erel, Senior Planner at McCann London

Medical misogyny is so ingrained in to the healthcare industry. Most test subjects are male and a lack of research in the sector meant it took until 2020 to discover that women experience pain differently.  The brand is taking on an ambitious task, but one that is essential in improving the lives of women and girls. 

“At the heart of the campaign is a brave client striving for change, it’s a huge commitment to close the gap and make women more visible,” added Ruth Boulter, Creative Director at McCann London.

The power of active listening

As a brand, Nurofen holds a unique power in that it has the ability to make real societal change. Yet beyond the brand at the heart of this journey is the real lived experience of women. “Women's voices are at the heart of the campaign,” says Boulter. For the brand to make the right changes, understanding what women go through and creating a space where people feel comfortable to share was vital for success.

As Boulter explains: “People feel isolated by dismissals of pain, believe what they hear and think they are alone. Showing there is community drives change.”

The power of safe spaces is championed by Deborah Williams, Founder of The Women’s Association, who works with women daily to change the narrative. “Community is a huge part of what we do,” she explained. Williams urged the audience to really think about the human being behind any experience and to consider the power of bringing people together and giving them a proper platform to share their experience.

Williams shared her own experience of pain with the pane, explaining that as a child when experiencing migraines, the pain was almost glamorised as ‘part of being a woman’; suffering pain felt feminine. When her mother would encourage her to push through the pain as other women have been made to do for generations, Williams urged the audience to try to break this cycle and learn from her experience. She reminded the audience to look inward and ensure we are not perpetuating the stereotypes that have done us harm in the past, to challenge societal pressures.

Intersectionality needs to not just be a phrase. Behind that word are real people who are sidelined, used to being second in conversations.

Deborah Williams, Founder of The Women’s Association

Individual impact

McCann London CEO, Polly McMorrow echoed the importance of small individual actions to have an impact on changing the wider narrative. 

She shared that when taking the job as CEO at McCann London she told the hiring team that she wouldn’t be the same as previous CEOs. As a 38-year-old woman with 2 children under 4, she wasn't a stereotypical CEO. By being clear about what makes her different and setting those boundaries from the start she could both be herself and do things differently. 

McMorrow believes in ‘generosity of space for people’ to allow the best for individuals and to allow women to talk and be open about their issues or their pain. An approach based on the belief that all people, regardless of gender, have unique individual needs which underlines the importance of flexibility; there is no one-size-fits-all approach to leadership. 

For women in the advertising industry pushing against a sea of existing expectations and norms is hard. “How do I live up to expectations? Do I assimilate and match their style? It takes a lot of confidence to do your own thing,” explained Ipek Erel, Senior Planner at McCann London. 

Industry leaders must work to help actively build that confidence for their team, as like for many others, when Erel did feel empowered to bring her whole self and unique experiences to work she felt able to be her most creative. 

For leaders, it is about honesty and support and acknowledging that a creative pursuit is not always a linear journey as Nicola Kemp, Editorial Director at Creativebrief shared, presenting the creative process as frictionless is not only a lie but one that alienates others.

Taking a flexible, supportive approach to talent led the panel to also consider the idea of intersectionality. Yet as Williams explained: “Intersectionality needs to not just be a phrase. Behind that word are real people who are sidelined, used to being second in conversations. For a long time feminism has been layered with white women being at the top, we need to remember that in conversations.”

Finding creative solutions 

For Nurofen, reflecting as many different, unique stories of women’s pain as possible is essential for the success of the campaign and for creating the most impactful change. To help better understand and reflect the lives of the consumers they want to reach, the brand has worked with Creative Equals to actively widen the lens and represent a range of diverse, different pain stories.

Gell shared that the brand has been: “taken aback by how well received the campaign has been”. She adds that the response from audiences has been ‘overwhelmingly positive.’ A result that is only possible when a brand truly listens to its audience and when a campaign is built on truth and honest empathy.

In validating the experiences of women, the campaign shows how working to gain a meaningful, real, understanding of an issue is what leads to the most creative solutions. A creative solution which not only successfully differentiate and build the brand but helps to bridge one of the most painful gaps in society. 

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