How Action Aid & Weber Shandwick heightened awareness of female genital mutilation

The Brutal Cut campaign

“It’s the end of childhood,” says Luke Walker, creative director at Weber Shandwick as he talks about the award-winning campaign he and executive creative director James Nester completed for the Brutal Cut campaign.

Heightening awareness of female genital mutilation that can affect the lives of girls as young as four-years-old through the creation of a campaign that would have impact on the general public was the brief the Weber Shandwick were handed by Action Aid UK.

“They won’t go back to school. Their lives are cut short. So, we really wanted to utilise this,” continues Walker of their drive to crack the brief and make a difference.

Their response saw a 10 second clip featuring a 14-year-old Kenyan girl speaking her local tongue, in front of a black board, saying: “This cut might be irritating, but some cuts are life destroying,” while staring down the camera lens at the viewer.

It’s haunting stuff.

This clip was edited into influencer and celebrity videos, as well as cinemas trailers, festival screens, digital out of home boards and social media ads. It was the first synchronised interruption of outdoor media to date, with 132 screens taken over at the same time.

Walker, who went to Kenya to meet the Action Aid team based out there heard stories from girls first hand. After spending a few days hearing the girls’ in the safe centres stories, Walker found the two girls, Abigail and Purity, who would star in the two campaign videos.

“They were best friends and one of them managed to save the other and persuade her to run away,” he explained.

“She was literally about to face the cut herself. It’s horrific.”

Filming in Action Aid’s Kenyan safe centre which was roofed with corrugated iron during the rainy season meant there were very few times the shots could be taken and be audible. The duo was also heavily aware of how sensitive the subject of cutting was and spent time with focus groups and speaking to women locally to ensure the language was right.

After getting the clips and quickly turning the edit around, the duo struggled to find people to get involved and place the cut in their videos. With the subject of female genital mutilation being such a dark one, a lot of influencers turned down the opportunity as they weren’t keen to showcase such a horrifying issue to their young audiences. Nester recalled: “It’s down to the dark subject matter, it is horrific. A lot of the influencers online have really young audiences, so a lot of them were reluctant from that point of view to upset them.”

The outreach team at Weber Shandwick, with support from youth influencer agency Latimer, found that once they'd persuaded some vloggers to help it gave others the confidence to follow. Some influencers who were already campaigning against difficult issues were happy to get involved. Soon the likes of YouTuber Scola Dondo and singer Alesha Dixon were on board alongside online publishers Lad Bible and Pretty52.

The next challenge was finding a simple way to insert the edit into people’s videos, as some influencers claimed to have the next four years of their content prepared.

“We needed to make the barrier incredibly low, so we created a website where they could upload their existing content and in a couple of clicks Brutal Cut could be placed into the content.” Nester said. The website also allowed those who were not directly working on the campaign to cut their own content, whether an influencer, celebrity or member of the general public, with the clip to share themselves.

Once there were enough people involved, the campaign was launched in what the creative pair refer to as “disruptive advertising of all sorts”. With commenters on social media saying exactly what the creative pair had hoped for, that the ad had scared them when it interrupted what they were watching.

It was then that the charity got in touch with YouGov to conduct a survey and find out how many people understood the matter and how many people the glitchy campaign had affected that found over 152 million people had been reached and raised over £3m for the charity. The money is now being used to build more safe centres for girls across Kenya and Africa.

“It was very different to any work coming out of the UK at the time,” Walker said.

Nester explained: “When we come up with ideas, the holy grail is one that doesn’t rely on a specific channel.

“We love the ones that can live anywhere, and this was a great example of one of those.”

“We don’t want to just pay loads of money to interrupt a TV programme or when they’re reading a magazine.

“Times have changed significantly, and we need to be creating work that people want to participate in, that they identify with. That they want to share with their friends.

“You know you’ve hit gold when your work is freely passed around culture like that.”

The creative drew in a raft of awards for its boldness, the use of advertising to try and change the world and the Grand Prix at The Drum’s Social Buzz Awards, Best Integrated Campaign at The Drum Creative Awards and three Awards at The Marketing Can Change the World awards.

Find out more about The Brutal Cut campaign on Action Aid's official website. Meanwhile, the campaign won major prizes as The Drum's Social Buzz Awards and The Drum's Social Purpose Awards which are both now open for entry.

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