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WombStories: what we can learn from advertising’s red wave

Bodyform and AMV BBDO’s #WombStories continues to raise the bar in marketing.

Georgie Moreton

Assistant Editor, BITE

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In amidst the ‘red wave’ of advertising that has challenged the stereotypes surrounding the depiction of women’s experiences, it is difficult to overestimate the impact of  #WombStories on the creative industries. 

The groundbreaking campaign was at the heart of the Cannes Lions Unlocked event, which saw Nick Hulley and Nadja Lossgott, Executive Creatives Directors at AMV BBDO revisit the impactul campaign for Bodyform,  which picked up four Grand Prix awards at last year's Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. One year on, the campaign continues to resonate with people around the world, tackling taboos associated with women's health, empowering audiences and leaving a lasting impact.

Womb Stories are proving that creativity at its finest can be medicine

Nick Hulley, Executive Creative Director at AMV BBDO

 

Womb Stories launched in 2020 with a poignant film depicting life with a womb where the creators set out to reinforce the message that existing in a woman’s body is anything but simple. Hulley explained that “the story that billions of young girl around the world are taught is the one that says you get your period at 12 repeat with minimal pain, deal with pain discreetly, have babies, return to periods and retire your body at 50 when you’re supposed to politely fade into the background”. As Lossgott added, this approach is  “not just a lazy simplification of the experience, its patriarchal propaganda; a narrative to control our bodies.” 

The creators of Womb Stories therefore set out on a journey to break apart this narrative, showing women that they are not alone; life with a womb is complex and experiences that aren’t laid out in that simple narrative are normal too. “Despite the fact that miscarridge is extremely common, the traditional narrative can make women feel like failures if they experience anything outside of those small confines,” adds Lossgott.

The commonality of experiences outside of this traditional narrative was even evidenced whilst working on the project when Nadja and Nick’s coworker, Augustine, was found “curled up in excruciating pain underneath her desk, trying to work through it.” Nadja explained, “she had been to multiple doctors over the years and every single one had said there's nothing wrong with her, she had a low pain threshold and so had stopped seeking help. After being taken to the hospital she eventually got diagnosed with endometriosis. But this is the kind of shit that happens to women all the time. We as women end up gas lighting ourselves.” Conditions like endometriosis are not rare, and yet for decades now the taboos around talking about female health have left women to suffer in silence thinking that something is wrong. One in ten people suffer from endometriosis and yet, it takes on average eight years to diagnose.

Despite the fact that miscarriage is extremely common, the traditional narrative can make women feel like failures if they experience anything outside of those small confines

Nadja Lossgott, Executive Creatives Director at AMV BBDO

With Womb Stories, Bodyform and AMV BBDO knew that they needed to open up the conversation by unashamedly presenting women with a depiction of the womb that’s never been shown before in advertising. One that shows the unavoidable, at times ugly, truth to validate the female journey and empower everyone with a womb. AMV BBDO wanted to subvert tropes that “women's emotions are the problem” , says Nadja Losgott, “women's emotions are the solution”. To do this Womb Stories reimagined the womb, Losgott described it as “disregarding the textbook sad depictions and restoring it to its rightful place; a position of power, with a rich inner world of womb dwellers that sometimes work with you and sometimes against.”

A crucial part of the campaign was not telling women how they felt but asking them. Alongside the film, Womb Stories was a more elongated project , collating the experiences of women via research to unearth the truth of life with a womb. Hulley explained that the best way to understand experiences was by thinking anthropomorphically about the womb and “by asking questions that personified the womb such as “if your womb was a person who would it be?” or “if it was a place what would it be like?” From this they were able to gain responses sometimes beautiful, sometimes comedic; “A rude shop assistant that makes you feel like shit but still manages to make you buy something” but all were emotional and raw, able to bring the womb to life in an honest way. These experiences from real people were what came together to tell multiple stories and spotlight the vast array of emotion associated with the womb.

Women's emotions are the solution

Nadja Lossgott, Executive Creatives Director at AMV BBDO

The impact of the film and the shared stories were profound and elicited a range of emotion from audiences that meant AMV BBDO had to rethink how reactions to the ad were monitored. Negative responses weren’t necessarily entirely negative, positive ones sometimes emotionally overwhelming as women were able to finally see themselves on screen, reassured that experiences are shared. The complexity of the response to the campaign is reflective of the complex relationship that people have with their wombs and shows that the campaign was able to achieve what it set out to do. 

From peoples sharing Womb Stories online of misdiagnosis, the campaign was able to help craft a new vernacular acting as a new diagnostic tool, enabling for systematic change. Giving sufferers of endometriosis a new dictionary of language to help express the pain they are feeling and shortening the diagnostic process. 

The Womb Stories campaign is a compelling example of how creativity and compassion can lead to meaningful change. By challenging what we audiences have been taught, subverting expectations and listening to the real people the campaign was able to give hope and create a community. The campaign not only saw great results for Bodyform but showed a deeper understanding, or else willingness to understand its audience with Hulley closing by declaring “Womb Stories are  proving that creativity at its finest can be medicine.”

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