The story behind one of the biggest ad successes of the year

Leo Burnett's Judy John explains #LikeAGirl

Even before being named Best of Show at last night’s Marketing Awards, it was clear P&G’s #LikeAGirl from Leo Burnett was one of the biggest advertising successes of the year—not just in Canada, but globally.

The top honour from Canada’s most important industry awards show follows a Grand Clio, gold from the One Show and, most recently, a rare Black Pencil from the prestigious D&AD in London. (Any predictions for Cannes?)

You don’t have to be a worried mother or father to be touched by this powerful piece of film that turns young girls into heroes, kicking and punching at some of the stubbornly invisible buttresses of systemic gender inequality.

But, it’s also a great example of how brands can break through and connect with consumers on a viscerally emotional level. It’s a common goal for a lot of marketers these days, but it’s not easy for brands to do that without seeming clumsy and disingenuous at best or manipulative and exploitive at worst. With #LikeAGirl, P&G and Leo Burnett got it just right.

The work is a team effort between the agency’s Toronto, Chicago and London offices, led by Toronto’s Judy John as the chief creative officer.

Marketing asked John, who was also the 2015 Marketing Awards co-chair, about how they did it.

Can you tell us about how #LikeAGirl began?
The idea came from having a big ambition for the brand and an inspiring point of view of our role in girls’ and women’s lives; Always wanted to change girls’ lives one girl at a time by championing their confidence.

Our research showed that girl’s confidence drops during puberty, significantly more than boys, [and] we knew we had to do something about it. During our exploration of the things that influence girls during this vulnerable time, someone had put up on the board on a piece of paper: #LikeAGirl. That’s all it said. And of all the ideas and pieces of paper in the room, I was instantly drawn to it. The idea was explained as: Like A Girl has been around forever and is used in derogatory ways, let’s change the meaning of it. From that day on, we started to build on that idea.

How did you take the idea to P&G and what happened after the first meeting? 
We took the client two big idea platforms, #Like A Girl sat within one of those areas. All our clients connected with the trueness of the insight and the power of the idea, [and] requested we launch the idea as a film. We spent the next few weeks blowing out the idea and writing scripts.

Your director was award-winning documentarian Lauren Greenfield (The Queen of Versailles, Thin, Beauty CULTure). Did it take much to get her to do it?
We looked at a bunch of directors, but in the end felt Lauren was the perfect director for this. You can tell from her photography and short films, she really gets girls and women and what they go through. It didn’t take much convincing, this was the perfect match up.

You guys have called this a “social experiment.” Why?
It’s a social experiment because you don’t know exactly what you’ll get. Unlike a scripted video, we had a list of actions we asked people to do and followed with a list of questions—their responses were entirely spontaneous. We had some hypotheses on what would happen when we asked people to do things like a girl, but that was it.

Anything about the shoot that contributed to getting such powerful footage?
I think the idea itself, of what it means to do something like a girl, led to great and honest footage. Women, at times, were surprised by how they unknowingly insulted themselves and how commonly people used the phrase. People were really engaged in the topic of girls’ confidence and were interested in talking about how to change that.

What about casting, what were the people told they were auditioning for?
We did real people casting through live auditions, video submissions and street casting. People were told we were casting for market research and that it could possibly turn into a short film.

Can you remember the clients’ reactions when you first showed them?
We had a short post-production schedule so we were working day and night. The first cut of the film we shared was five and a half minutes long.

Because we’re a global team working on a global account (clients in three cities, agency in three different cities), the edit was shared via conference—not ideal because you miss feeling the energy in the room, but that’s modern business. We all went on mute as everyone watched. Clients came back on and cheered, some were choked up with emotion.

Over the next two weeks, we made a lot of changes to get the film down to 3:30, but the heart of it stayed the same.

At what point did you realize you had a “viral” hit on your hands—work that would stand up as one of the year’s best globally?
When our video hit three million views in 24 hours, I felt relief and elation.

When we hit 25 million views by day seven, I wondered if this is what going viral feels like.

Now at over 85 million views, I know what going viral feels like.

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