Today, on International Women’s Day we celebrate the anniversary of our Women’s Aid Look At Me campaign.

This is the story of a ground-breaking digital innovation. A Cannes Gold Lion winner. A global PR phenomenon. The winner of the BIMA Grand Prix. But, when we started, things didn’t look quite so promising. There was no production budget. No media budget. There wasn’t even a client brief. But there was a really good idea that we thought could make the world a slightly better place. So we stuck in there. And this is the story of how we made it happen.

Domestic violence affects one in four women. Yet it goes unnoticed and unreported, meaning women continue to suffer in silence.  Happening behind closed doors, it is all too easy for society to turn a blind eye, to pretend it isn’t happening. We wanted to stop this happening. So we wanted to target not just the victims or perpetrators, but society at large. We wanted ordinary people to realise that by engaging with the problem they could start to stop it.

However, there was an issue standing in the way of a salient mass-market campaign. We had no production or media budget. Our opportunity came through Ocean Outdoor’s annual competition, which rewards the most creative use of digital outdoor with £100,000 of free media. Ocean’s most advanced billboards carry facial-recognition cameras that can track how many people are looking towards them.

This technology would let us do something spectacular: when passers-by noticed a depiction of domestic violence on the screen, the cameras would trigger a change, ‘healing’ the abuse. The idea was to start with a bruised woman. As long as people ignored her, she remained the same. But just one person could make a change.  By stopping and noticing the problem, a passer-by would start to heal her bruises. And the more people who looked, the more her face healed.

The copy read: ‘If you can see it, you can change it’.

This idea won us the competition, securing £100,000 of media to make it happen.

WA copy

To maximise the PR effect, we decided to coincide the launch with a time when journalists would be pre-disposed to write about the issues at stake. We discovered that International Women’s Day fell on Sunday 8th March 2015, and decided this would be the moment to launch our campaign.

Such was the strength of the idea that photographer Rankin agreed to shoot the campaign for free, bringing three models with him. Industry-leading make-up and special effects artists followed, including the team responsible for prosthetics in The Hobbit. And production houses volunteered their services for free. We selected Smoke & Mirrors to make the transition from bruised to healed as powerful as possible.

PR took the story to 327 million people. 68 broadcasters, newspapers and online portals covered it, from 20 different countries. In the USA (where it had never run) the campaign featured in prime-time bulletins on NBC, CBS and ABC.  People who heard about it took to social media in droves, with 86.7 million impressions on Twitter alone. And we’ve been contacted by charities around the world asking to use our idea to stop abuse in their own countries.

This campaign started life without a media budget, production budget or live brief.

But from these unlikely origins came an extraordinarily powerful idea; a new use of digital poster technology; the support of Rankin and Julie Walters; weeks of free post-production; hundreds of thousands of pounds of free media; hundreds of millions of people reached around the globe.