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How breast cancer charity CoppaFeel gives social media 'nipple censorship' the slip


By Dani Gibson, Senior Writer

October 2, 2019 | 10 min read

Breast cancer charity, CoppaFeel, has been campaigning for better awareness around the disease to women, men, transgender and gender-neutral individuals going on 10 years this October. Its marketing approach has pushed the boundaries with avant-garde style campaigning.

Founder, Kris Hallenga has been living with stage four breast cancer for over a decade now. Following her diagnosis in February 2009 at just 23, she set up the charity on the realisation that education around checking your breasts was something that young people weren't getting. The charity gained official status on October 28 2009, the same day her left breast was removed.

Ahead of Breast Cancer Awareness Month and The Drum Social Purpose Awards, which she is judging, we caught up with Hallenga on how the charity has evolved over the past decade.

Let's be showing nipples

In 2017, the Trust your Touch campaign was launched and featured a range of breast-shaped imagery, including boob juggling balls, to remind the public to check themselves. It was also the first advert to show a female nipple on British daytime TV.

However, within social media, the slightest hint of a bare female breast can have your ads banned faster than you can say nip slip. Instagram is one of CoppaFeel's main social outputs, sitting at 91.5k followers. The image-centric platform's guidelines state that nudity on the platform “also includes some photos of female nipples, but photos of post-mastectomy scarring and women actively breastfeeding are allowed. Nudity in photos of paintings and sculptures is OK, too.”

“It's frustrating and annoying,” says Hallenga. “We use very clever imaging which obviously hides the nipple, but you can still make out that it's a breast. That's kind of all we can do.”

Coppafeel uses clever images to work around the online nipple ban

CoppaFeel uses clever images to work around the online nipple ban

It was also three years ago during the 2014 'What Normal Feels' campaign, in which nipples were shown on billboards for the first time.

billboard breasts

“We'll keep showing nipples as much as we can,” adds Hallenga. “As long as they ban it, then we can't do anything about it but we make a point that as soon as we’re taken down, people are aware that we've been censored.”

By calling out on the ban each time they have a post taken down, the charity is exposing the issue.

Face-to-face, old school marketing

Social media is a large part of CoppaFeels interaction with its young audience, however, the charity is insistent on keeping its face-to-face, old school techniques.

Campaigning for the cause began on the festival fields and they continue with the CoppaFeel summer boob tour each year, taking the boob bus to the various festivals throughout the UK asking people if they check their breasts while glittering their faces.

This enforces the charities message and allows time for festival-goers to ask questions from people that are not doctors. "It’s a conversation we’re sparking that we’ve found is so useful with making the whole thing less scary," Hallenga adds. "Plus young folk love glitter".

boob tour

No matter how big digital gets, Coppafeel will always head out onto the streets and speak to people face to face. It's vital for them to ensure that people understand that there are humans behind the charity.

Hallenga adds: "It's so easy to get carried away with social media and digital that you forget that people want to see other humans and what they're actually doing behind the brand."

One decade ago, apps were only just starting to rise in popularity, with the App Store launching in late 2008. There are plenty of apps that allow people to remind themselves about checking their breasts. But what CoppaFeel has found, is that the text message service still remains a popular service with over 70,000 text messages sent each month.

"We trialled an app," explains Hallenga." "But unless it's something fun that will really make someone's day better, has some kind of photo filter or something like that on it, people won't be engaged.

"With a text message, it pops up and it stays in your inbox. It doesn't just disappear as soon as the notifications are gone. We always want to be in someone's inbox and because people don't tend to message each other in that way anymore, we're more likely to stick out. We don't have people unsubscribing from it."

From the get-go, Coppafeel has been commandeering boobs. Anything that looked like breasts, the charity was hijacking it, including the Angel of the North.

AOF coppa

Keeping it fresh 10 years on

With 2019 marking CoppaFeel’s tenth anniversary, Hallenga and her team wanted to shake things up a bit. They wanted something that really celebrates everything they have done to date.

The brief was simple for ad agency, Fold7 - encompass a sense of grabbing life and making the most of it, no matter how long you've got.

“We wanted it to be super visual and really encompass lots of different people,” explains Hallenga. It wasn’t so hard bringing together a cast of diverse people with many coming forward after seeing the cast call on social media, wanting to be equally represented and speak to people just like them.

Directed and scripted by PrettyBird’s Eloise King in collaboration with Fold7's Simon Helm, and developed by a predominantly female production team, the campaign faced few challenges, particularly with the budget, since Fold7 secured gifted media and cinema space.

"As soon as we saw Eloise's treatment we immediately knew she was the director for Grab Life," adds Hallenga. "She really prioritised the need to normalise boob-checking by celebrating regular people, grabbing onto life in everyday ways.

"It helps that Eloise sits within our target audience, and as a woman, could approach the ad with a distinctly female gaze and the intimacy that permits. That being said, it was her honesty as a storyteller, not her gender, that made her the only choice for this project."

The inclusivity of the campaign resonated with the masses and Coppafeel's audience. "Everyone deserves to have their breast cancer diagnosed early, no matter their sexuality, gender or non-gender, they are allowed to have this messaging and they need to hear it," insists Hallenga. "Because breast cancer doesn't give shit about any of that stuff."

The purpose of it all

Brand purpose was on the agenda at Cannes Lions this year, and several brands seemed to have a sense of purpose fatigue. But brand purpose is on everyone’s agenda right now. If you’re not seen to be making a difference, you’re not relevant. In fact, if you aren't genuine in your approach, you better stay off the playing field, as consumers will see through you.

Hallenga advises that brand purpose should be embraced. Ticking the authenticity box is important, she adds. But there needs to be a genuine reason behind it because it really matters to a brand.

"Marketers need to be constantly challenged to stand out and if people have become fatigued, that's fine," she suggests. "We need to think of a way around that and actually adapt where we go next.

"That doesn't mean that we suddenly become socially aware or undo all the work that we've done, but it's about being clever, thinking where we go next and how we get our message across in a different and more unique way.

"As marketers, we all have the responsibility to keep being aware of all these things and have a purpose throughout all of it."

As the charity and its awareness grow, brands are approaching Hallenga and her team more.

"I do feel like a lot of people are having to tick some kind of social responsibility, CSR box and they're coming to us because we execute things quite well.

"However, if we know that people are just doing it to tick a box, then we obviously have to think twice whether we're going to work with them. But if it genuinely will reach a new group of people, that we can't reach ourselves, then we're always keen."

Take Superdrug for instance. Earlier this year a partnership was formed with the charity to offer a no-touch consultation on how to carry out a breast examination in all 56 Superdrug nurse clinics across the UK.

"It's like a one-stop between us and the GP," Hallenga explains. "Because so many people are still scared to speak to their GP about it. They're worried that they're wasting their time. We want to ensure that they have somewhere else to go."

October marks Breast Cancer Awareness month, and like many other charities and brands, Coppafeel will be making the most out of the next 31 days.

The next wave of Grab Life by the Boobs will launch in the form of radio edits as well as more outdoor space to re-engage the population.

"We've got a huge collaboration coming out with Vans as well," says Hallenga. "Which for us is such a good partnership because it speaks to the people that we want to speak to.

"Our shoe and apparel collection will launch globally from October 1, with Vans donating at least $200,000 to the cause."

Other partnerships and events throughout the month include Avon, Fujifilm, Accessorize, Myga Yoga, Boohoo, bag&bones, Bravissimo, Missguided and the charities music festival, Festifeel curated by Fern Cotton.

Hallenga is a judge for The Drum Social Purpose Awards 2019, an international event celebrating all organisations who are champions of change, and driving a more diverse, purposeful and socially responsible representation of marketing today.

Finalists for these awards can be found here and tickets for the ceremony can be purchased here.

Winmo are a parter of these awards.

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