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Redefining the narrative of endometriosis and women's pain - #BehindTheIdea

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Some of you may remember the stunning #Wombstories campaign from some time ago – a bold, incredibly compelling campaign to tell untold stories about women's bodies. Back then, we at Creativepool praised the beauty of those animations and the level of expertise behind that campaign. Now, AMV BBDO did it again.

#Painstories is an extension of that original campaign, further breaking the silence and shame about women's pain and surrounding endometriosis. You can see examples from yet another powerful campaign for Libresse below – and all it took was simply listening to the real, lived experiences of women across the nation and beyond.

Today we are getting Behind the Idea to understand more about the #Painstories campaign and what incredibly beautiful mechanisms enabled it to come to life.

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What was the brief?​

#painstories is an extension of #wombstories, which is all about telling untold stories about women’s bodies. The #wombstories film represented the visceral reality of endometriosis, but we wanted to go deeper into pain, further breaking the cycle of shame and silence that stops people from endometriosis getting the help they deserve. Because even though endometriosis affects 1 in 10 women, it takes on average 7.5 years to diagnose. We wanted to give sufferers new tools to share, and provide tangible help to people living in pain, closing the gender pain gap one story at a time. 

The Pain Report, our extensive research project into the gender pain gap worldwide, identified key barriers to endometriosis diagnosis, including the widespread misconception that women’s pain is “normal”, general lack of awareness about the condition, and inadequate language to pain communicate pain –– The Pain Dictionary is our answer to these issues. 

How did the initial pitch/brainstorming phase go?

As part of our #wombstories research, we asked people to talk about their wombs in more imaginative, metaphorical ways: we asked “what does your womb dweller look like?” or “if your womb was a place, what would it look like?” Such powerful stories are unlocked when you ask the right questions, and lean into more visceral, emotional language. We took this thinking and applied it to endometriosis, an area where we found it could become a practical tool to address a real dearth of language, which fuels diagnostic delays.

The Pain Dictionary came out one of the creatives, Augustine Cerf’s personal experience of not having the language to express her own endometriosis pain. It can be a terribly lonely experience having so much pain raging quietly inside you, and no way to express it to others. She was often asked to place my pain on a scale of 1-10 and personally found that quite reductive, and difficult to use. So we wanted to create a new, rich language that people could use to give proper expression to pain.

We started by asking people with endometriosis how it really felt. Pain is often experienced in images – it’s a way to make sense of what is happening to you. As soon as we started to ask the right questions, something was unlocked, and suddenly people could share those experiences more fully.

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Tell us more about the concept. How did it come to life, and why was it the right choice?

The Pain Dictionary is a new language for endometriosis pain – both visual and verbal. It’s a tool to both express and recognise serious pain, which could lead to quicker diagnosis. 

We wanted the dictionary to be Instagram-led: as an Insta-book, and shareable social assets, as well as a downloadable e-book. Being a digital-first campaign was important because of the role the internet plays for those with endometriosis. Due to large research gaps and an all-too common experience of having one’s pain dismissed or simply misunderstood, people with endometriosis turn to the growing online endo community, especially on Instagram, where information and experiences are shared – a solace for many, including Augustine. 

The book is also a physical book, bringing language to people when they most need it: in GP surgeries, in school nurses’ offices and shared with influencers. 

We hope this will help people with endometriosis to communicate how it really feels and allow them to feel better understood. And that people in pain might recognise their own pain in the depictions, and feel empowered to seek help, which could accelerate diagnosis. 

What was the production process like? What was the biggest challenge?

The visuals had to be the opposite of the 1-10 pain scale: pure sensation, pure subjectivity. Something felt, not counted. Each image comes straight out of the language shared by people with endometriosis – rich pictures painted in words first. That was always the starting place. 

We commissioned all-female artists to bring the pain descriptions to life, and tried to use as many artists who had endometriosis, like Venus Libido and Ellie Pearce, who illustrated their own pain definitions. We wanted each pain word to make you feel something, immediately – both visually and linguistically – so that people could really begin to empathise with what endometriosis sufferers really live with. And see that it’s not just a “bad period”. We had to be true to the pain descriptions that had been entrusted to us by endometriosis sufferers – it was so important to honour the specificity and power of each definition, so that was our main challenge, to never lose sight of that.  

The custom typeface we created for Wombstories and Painstories is a stylized typographic version of a woman’s womb. Wombstories, which is the wider campaign, is about the womb and the different personal stories and experiences that emanate from that. We wanted the typeface to be as beautiful and as evocative as the personal artwork that sat below it. We had never seen a womb typeface before, so we decided to make one. There are little nuggets of biology hidden and expressed in each letter.

Taking inspiration from typographic shapes that can be found in Art Deco typography and French letterforms the goal was to create a typeface that felt feminine and elegant. Its rounded letterforms give the typeface a friendly feel and an even line thickness throughout adds to its elegant appearance. The addition of just the right amount of biological details gives the typeface a distinctive look.

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What is one funny or notable thing that happened during the production of the campaign?

This is not a very funny campaign, but we can give you some behind the scenes insights. NEEDLE THREADS is Augustine’s own pain description and she painted it herself. She cried uncontrollably as she did so – she was in so much pain that day; that was exactly how it felt.

Venus Libido, one of artists who has endometriosis, had a similar response, but in reading the book –– “I literally just sat and read the whole Pain Dictionary and descriptions from other endo sufferers and cried uncontrollably,” she posted to her Instagram stories, “I urge people to take the time and read them on the @bodyformuk page and have a real understanding of the pain and suffering so you can better support those in your life or work place who have it.” 

What’s the main message of the campaign and why does it matter?

Let our #painstories be heard. It matters because it still takes on average 7.5 years to diagnose endometriosis. Because we live in a society where we are told bad period pain is “normal” and pain is just a woman’s lot, where we’re expected to just endure suffering without complaint and are made to feel embarrassed or ashamed about speaking up. Because, as our Pain Report reveals, between January and October 2019, more than 100 women in the UK had taken their own lives due to endometriosis.

What is one unique aspect of the campaign?

It’s all about listening to the real, lived experiences of women. From The Pain Report which interviewed 24 women living with gynaecological conditions, as well as all-female experts, in order to truly understand diagnostic barriers across the world, to The Pain Dictionary which is a new language created out of verbatim pain descriptions from women and people with wombs, to The Pain Museum, created with our partners at Ketchum, which places the Pain Dictionary artworks within the broader context of the gender pain gap, and centres the endometriosis experience of Lauren Mahon. 

Also, we created a whole new language – that’s pretty unique. 

How long did it take from inception to delivery?

About a year.

What do you hope it achieves for the brand?

Bodyform/Libresse are committed to dismantling taboos and stigmas around women’s bodies – this is the latest campaign in our taboo-busting mission. If it helps someone feel less lonely inside their pain, or quickens one person’s diagnosis, we’ll have done what we set out to achieve. 

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Credit list for the campaign?

Client: Essity
Brand: Libresse/Bodyform
Campaign title: #Painstories by Libresse
Client name: Tanja Grubner, Global Marketing & Communications Director, Femcare
Client name: Luciana de Azevedo Lara - Global Brand Communications Manager, FemCare

Agency: AMV BBDO
CCO: Alex Grieve
ECDs: Nadja Lossgott & Nicholas Hulley
Creative Directors: Toby Allen & Jim Hilson, Nadja Lossgott & Nicholas Hulley
Copywriter & Art Director: Augustine Cerf & Lauren Peters
Designer: Mario Kertstra, Jack Donovan
Agency Planner: Margaux Revol, Beatrice Farmelo, Bridget Angear
Agency Account Team: Sarah Douglas, Sarah Hore-Lacy, Katie Gorrod
Agency Creative Producer: Rosie Stipic
Business Affairs: Michelle Holmes

PR Agency: Ketchum
Practice Director: Amber Organ
Senior Account Manager: Victoria Bond
Research Company: The Outsiders
Researchers: Steven Lacey, Zoë McQuillin

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