BBDO’s Whisper ad campaign wins top honour at Cannes

The campaign was awarded a Grand Prix in Glass Lion category introduced this year, the first such award bagged by an Indian advertising agency in 6 years


The Whisper advertisement addressed social stigmas associated with a woman’s menstrual cycle.
The Whisper advertisement addressed social stigmas associated with a woman’s menstrual cycle.

t’s not an ad. It’s an integrated movement” is how Josy Paul, chief creative officer at BBDO India, described Procter and Gamble Co. (P&G) brand Whisper’s ‘Touch the Pickle’ ad campaign that fetched the top honours at the Cannes Lions 2015.

The campaign was awarded a Grand Prix in the Glass Lion category introduced this year, the first such award bagged by an Indian advertising agency in six years.

The advertisement addressed social stigmas associated with a woman’s menstrual cycle.

The Glass Lion category recognizes work that implicitly or explicitly addresses issues of gender inequality or prejudice, through the conscious representation of gender in advertising.

Entries can be for any product or service and designed for any medium, but will in some way represent a shift towards more positive, progressive and gender-aware communication, states the Cannes Lions Website.

The award has been created in partnership with LeanIn.Org, an organization founded by Facebook Inc.’s chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg. LeanIn.Org is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to creating a gender-neutral world.

“The work started in June 2014. The wonderful thing was that it wasn’t about the ‘brief’, it was about the ‘briefing’. It was everybody sitting around a table talking about the brand’s challenges and possible way forward. That’s what happened with the P&G Whisper team. It was not transactional, it was highly interactive. We discussed the need to raise the emotional equity of the brand, keeping in mind the brand’s performance equity,” recalled Paul.

The campaign eventually got the media, social platforms, student organizations, stand-up comedians and even TEDx speakers talking about the subject openly, said Paul. The ad got more than 2 million views on YouTube.

“I was not in Cannes when I got the news, I was at a meeting in Mumbai. On receiving the news, I was instantly transported to a third place called ‘heaven’. What gave us tremendous joy was that both the movements— Whisper’s ‘Touch the Pickle’ and Ariel’s ‘Share the Load’—are large mainstream ideas that have had a transformational impact on both the brands. They started a conversation, helped change behaviour and drove a significant increase in sales,” said Paul.

P&G’s detergent brand Ariel also won in the same category for its ‘Share the Load’ campaign. The company, on its part, said Whisper’s brand purpose is to advocate for and empower women to reach their fullest potential.

“The Whisper ‘Touch the Pickle’ movement was conceived when we realized that a majority of Indian women were following irrelevant period taboos that restricted them from achieving their dreams. With superior quality sanitary protection like Whisper, we believe women should not feel restricted on their period days. Women across India overwhelmingly responded to our campaign with their own stories of breaking taboos. Their personal tales of achievement and an overall movement to be unstoppable resulted in our consumers rewarding us by choosing Whisper,” said a P&G spokesperson in an emailed response.

Advertising is moving a step closer to representing reality and the Glass Lion category is a step in that direction, according to Paul. “The Glass Lion is a fantastic idea because it responds so sensitively to our times. It shines light on gender equality issues and on things that really matter. It is about marketing that questions stereotypes while driving business results.” said Paul.

Sandberg described this as an award “that shatters gender stereotypes” in a Facebook post on Wednesday.

“Marketing doesn’t just reflect culture—it also shapes it. If our messages to women and men portray equality, we will help create a more equal world. Thank you to the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity and to all the winners for their commitment to advertising that shows the world as it should be. #LeanIn,” read Sandberg’s post.‬

Experts agree that the Whisper campaign is more than just an ad and tried to go beyond commodity advertising.

“It was not just an ad but a 360-degree idea which played out in various media. They took a very silly, very Indian belief about menstruating women and did a fantastic creative job in making people question the superstition. They changed the conversation from ‘how much soaking power does your sanitary napkin come with?’ to one of gender equality. I thought that was very clever, considering that advertising in the category is almost like commodity advertising,” said Nima Namchu, creative head and executive creative director at Cheil India Pvt. Ltd.

P&G’s advertising strategy going forward will focus on women empowerment and a need for social change, its spokesperson said. “We believe that the social context of our consumers inspires creative thinking and creative communication impacts society. As marketers, we can impact and shape social fabric by an in-depth understanding of her social context and how our brands can help her achieve what she wants. If we demonstrate that we understand her and provide solutions that make a difference to her daily life, she will trust us. It is important to build trust and that is the only way to build brands.”

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