L’Oreal asks bystanders to stand up against street harassment

Who: L’Oreal Paris Canada and the anti-harassment organization Right to Be, with McCann Montreal for strategy and creative; Wavemaker Canada for media; Macintyre Communications for PR.

What: “Asking For It,” a new awareness campaign for the “Stand Up” initiative, a training program aimed at combatting street harassment of women.

When & Where: The national campaign debuted during International Anti Street Harassment Week (April 16-22) and will run for four weeks on digital, social, and out-of-home.

Why: According to “Stand Up,” 80% of Canadian women have experienced sexual harassment in public places, ranging from sexually suggestive comments/jokes about their body; staring, leering or inappropriate or unwanted gestures; and unwelcome touching, hugging or kissing.

However, only 6% of women who have been harassed have had someone intervene on their behalf.  Right to Be describes such inaction as the “bystander effect,” noting that the greater the number of onlookers, the less likely that someone will help. “It takes courage to be the first to take action,” it states.

More than 1.6 million people have already completed the “Stand Up” program, and the goal is to get another 500,000 Canadians to become “upstanders,” people who take a stand against this type of harassment and create a culture where it is seen as unacceptable behaviour.

“With this campaign we aren’t just looking to start a conversation around street harassment, but we are actually aiming to impact the bystander effect and jolt people into taking action,” said McCann Montreal executive creative director Dave Roberts.

How: The awareness campaign used a series of posters in high-traffic areas featuring victim-blaming headlines like “Women who go on blind dates are asking for it,” “Women who wear red lipstick are asking for it” and “Women who wear tight clothes are asking for it.”

Each poster invited passers-by to tear down the poster if they disagreed with the sentiment. Tearing it down revealed a second poster that repeated the original offending phrase, except that the “asking for it” has been replaced by “asking for it to stop.” The posters also contained a message reading “If you can’t stand street harassment, why not stand up against it,” accompanied by a QR code directing people to the Stand Up training sessions.

The L’Oreal name wasn’t included on the original posters so as to ensure the brand didn’t influence the understanding or impact of the initial message. “There was a lot of discussion around the messaging and the approach, but we put measures in place to ensure the narrative was clear about L’Oréal being on the side of women,” said Roberts. “And the feedback so far has been incredible from women across Canada.”

McCann also captured video footage of onlookers’ reaction to the posters and eventually tearing them down that is running across digital and social. The brand “reset” the posters several times over two days. “The response from the public was very reassuring,” said Roberts. “Sometimes, we barely had a new set of posters installed before they were ripped down again. One woman drove past the installation, did a U-turn, jumped out and ripped down every single one!”

And we quote: “We knew it was the right way to combat the problem by making it incumbent on all of us—not just the immediate victim—to fight against street harassment anytime and everywhere they see it. Our goal is to drive half a million Canadians to take the 10-minute training and learn how to stand up against street harassment safely.” — Edouard Hottebart, general manager, L’Oréal Paris Canada

Chris Powell