We had Ellen and her ultimate ‘Celebrity Selfie‘ at the Oscars and last week saw the ‘Selfie’ being used for good. The #nomakeupselfie trend inspired a nation of women to down their mascara pens and lippy to show their support for Cancer Research UK, it even spawned a male spin-off #cockinasock for testicular cancer. According to Socialbakers, the campaign also resulted in 15,000 new Twitter followers in just 15 days and attracted over 20,000 @mentions on the 20 March and has garnered a lot of media attention in the process.
Yet this campaign didn’t originate with the charity itself, but back in February when 81 year-old Kim Novak, star of Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, was criticised for her appearance – more specifically, her cosmetic surgery and lack of make up. Comments on social escalated and it was revealed, not only was Ms Novak bipolar, but also recovering from breast cancer. The author, Laura Lippman responded to this by showing her solidarity on Twitter by taking a photo of herself without make up with the hashtag #itsokkimnovak.
It was only after the 18 year-old Fiona Cunningham, from Stoke-on-Trent, decided to create a Facebook Page and encourage her friends to donate to the cancer charity by uploading their own #nomakeupselfies did the phenomenon start to take off. The social team at Cancer Research UK noticed this trend developing and decided to jump on the back of conversation by offering a way to donate through mobile text donation. This was the smartest move any marketing person can do, in my opinion – offering clarity and avoiding claiming ownership, no matter how good the intentions are, even if they are directed in your favour.
Even now, if you visit the official Cancer Research UK Facebook Page, there are no posts directing people to donate, just simple ‘Thank You’ messages and clear responses to public questions about the campaign and details of how the money raised will be spent.
I’m sure many agencies were frustrated they didn’t think of it first, but the truth is, this was something that couldn’t be manufactured or dreamt up by an ad agency. Even it was, I doubt the campaign would have captured people’s attention the way it did, generate as much support and money or ultimately last as long. The fact is, authenticity and zeitgeist is out of our control when it comes to great viral campaigns, even though it is a ‘wave’ many good publicists and marketeers attempt to predict and try to tap into seamlessly. As Wren Studio discovered with their First Kiss video campaign, you can make noise, but in this digital age cynicism sniffs out a fraud very quickly or ‘ a corporate voice’ in this case, and none of us like the feeling of being duped and sold something unknowingly. This is fine, if your end goal is to simply make noise, but if you want to build loyalty and establish an honest relationship with your audience, you have to decide very careful what your end goal is and whether short-term gain is worth the long-term result. Cancer Research UK succeeds by standing side-by-side to the #nomakeupselfie campaign and applauding it from the side lines and offering a choice to contribute and donate. Plaudits go to management who decided to take immediate action after monitoring the sudden trend without undergoing a protractive approval process or trying to decide how it would fit within their existing marketing plans, which would have meant missing out or even worse, having some other charity ride the trend and doing it badly.
Being asked to create something ‘catchy’, ‘viral’ or ‘sticky’ or ‘of the moment’ sends shudders down the spines of any indivual who has to consider the expectations involved – as if we’re fortune tellers able to predict what the general public will want to engage in and care about months ahead from now. Instead of rolling our eyes or agreeing to shoe-horn an idea, we should have the confidence to identify and present current trends to support or build upon, whilst respecting the circumstances of what makes a genuine growing phenomenon. Clients in return, must be able to make decisions quickly and have the confidence to decide if certain trends match their own values enough to secure a real sense of affinity. There is always an elements of risk when it comes to spontaneous campaigns like this, but as we’ve seen, the pay off can be immeasurable if you get it right.