Viral marketing campaign going against Facebook censorship rules – Meaningfully Digital

A campaign that went successfully viral by breaking Facebook’s censorship rules

This is a post related to “Viral Marketing”, the topic for week 5 of the “Digital Marketing” course that I’m currently undertaking at RMIT.

I created this Spotify Playlist while writing this article, feel free to give it a go while you read the following lines:)

Imagine that you are a marketer and you are required to implement a potentially successful viral marketing action on Facebook: I’m pretty sure that one of the last things that you’d be aiming to would be to get your campaign deleted from the social media platform. Today I’d like to share with you how the German creative agency DDB Berlin turned that idea upside down by deliberately designing a campaign that was meant to be censored by Facebook.

The action was created for Pink Ribbon Germany, a charity organisation whose primary objective is to raise awareness on breast cancer. On the International Women’s Day back in 2016, they posted a set of pictures on Facebook and Instagram which featured several women showing a naked breast along with a link to the landing page of the campaign: they wanted to encourage women to check their breasts regularly. Being also aware of Facebook’s censorship rules regarding the display of nipples, they wittingly used the caption “check it before it’s removed”, which encouraged people to post and share the images as much as possible before the platforms started removing them.

Some of the images that were used in the campaign

The content moderators of the tech giant did start removing the pictures from Pink Ribbon Germany’s campaign. However, as that was taking place, mainstream media began to write about the action, and many people criticised Facebook for censoring it. The buzz that was generated converted it into a widely shared campaign and Facebook eventually stopped deleting the pictures. The following video sums it all up very well:

As it is shown in the previous video, the campaign turned out to be a massive success, but perhaps the same idea applied on a different context could have been a complete failure. Therefore, which are the factors that contributed to make it successful?

Taking into account Jonah Berger’s “six steps to virality” theoretical framework we’ve seen in class, it’s pretty amazing to discover that the campaign follows most of the principles from the STEPPS model:

  • Social Currency – as sharing the post would show to your network that you care about the issue.
  • Triggers – as it was published on the International Women’s Day.
  • Emotion – as cancer is a topic that many people feel emotionally attached to.
  • Practical Value – as the posts redirected to a landing page that provided information on how women could check their breasts properly.
  • Stories – as the fact that Facebook would remove their posts was a potentially shareable story.
Jonah Berger’s “six steps to virality”

In my opinion, this campaign is not only a great example of an innovative idea –which also fits in the mentioned theoretical framework– that lead to a successful viral campaign, but also the proof that we, as social media users, can have a huge impact on the decisions that social networks take –as Facebook stopped removing the pictures due to people’s pressure–. As I mentioned in this previous post: “it’s our responsibility to call out on the companies behind these tools [social media platforms] every time there’s something we think that might have an undesired impact in our lives”.

What do you think about this campaign? Do you think it was a smart move to go against Facebook’s censorship rules or you consider it was too risky? As marketers, would you dare to launch a similar action? Please, do not hesitate to comment below, it’s free!

~ by Elies Delgado Tamarit

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5 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Alyssa Alipan says:

    Hey Elies,
    Great blog! I definitely think this was a very risky idea. I find Facebooks censorship a very Americanised way of deal with nudity that isn’t a global opinion. I also thinking considering the awful things that have been live streamed lately, this campaign proves that nudity isn’t necessarily a taboo topic. I also think leveraging the idea of what ‘taboo’ is worked really well in this campaign. And getting people to like posts before the were deleted was ingenious. I would love to launch a campaign like this in the future, especially if it were for such an amazing cause.
    Great article, it really had me thinking about censorship.
    Alyssa.

  2. Jasmine Beli says:

    Hey Elies, I think that the campaign DDB Berlin chose to run was a great idea because people love controvercial topics, and that was the big factor of why the campaign went viral. They did something to stand out from every other advertisement and it clearly payed off well. It was definitely a risky move but it worked well for what was being advertised. Not every company could pull this off for their campaigns because it wouldn’t suit every advertisement and also some companies like having a pristine image. But I like that DDB Berlin took a risk and went agaisnt the norm.

  3. Erin says:

    Wow another brilliant blog! I really enjoyed this blog and wasn’t aware of that campaign! I think it was so smart and definitely caught the attention of the media and Facebook users which was their goal! Very much a purple cow scenario! Really smart and other campaigns could be as successful if they’re slightly controversial and hard necked. This is what we need more of in general and online. I totally agree with the campaign and would have shared the posts had I seen it.

  4. John says:

    Wow, what a brilliant campaign! Thank you for sharing it and analysing the reasons behind its viral success. I consider it was a very brave and witty move on their behalf but I’m not sure whether I would dare to take a similar action if the responsibility of the outcome of the campaign was on me.

  5. Victoria says:

    Wow, what a cool campaign you’re sharing in your blog post! Very, very brave move, but it shows once again that courage and extraordinary ideas can pay off and attract a lot of attention. I like how you applied the six steps to virality very well to the example – that makes the theory even more comprehensible.

    Finally to your question: I think the step is good and that more companies should dare to do so in order to gain attention for important purposes. Nowadays there is so much censorship that restricts our expression of opinion in some way – this should definitely be counteracted.

    Great blog post!

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