2021 began with disheartening news in Poland as https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-55838210 a controversial near-total ban on abortion in Poland took effect. The prohibition prompted widespread protests when it was issued in October 2020 and these have continued throughout this year.
Not content to sit on the sidelines, Polish jewellery brand YES decided to use its advertising platform to broadcast a tribute to all women for their diversity, courage, independence, strength, emotions, and sensitivity. Working with creative agency 180heartbeats + JUNG v. MATT, the campaign rails against how often society says ‘no’ to women in so many different ways. Instead it chooses to say ‘YES’ through the voices of dynamic women and gender fluid people who are blazing trails against outdated ideals.
The resulting film has been received enthusiastically, with only TVP public television in Poland, controlled by the right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party saying ‘no’ to the campaign, claiming that it was harmful to its viewers and their sensitivity. TVP demanded the removal of shots with non-heteronormative couples, as well as nudity (a breastfeeding woman and a woman after mastectomy). However, the so-called nudity could be tolerated by TVP after 8 PM, but non-heteronormative couples could not be tolerated at any time.
Keen to understand the context and deeper meaning of the campaign, LBB’s Alex Reeves spoke to Antonina Ruszkowska, junior art director and Pablo Dominguez Agregan, creative director at 180heartbeats +JUNG v MATT to find out more
LBB> What first provoked this campaign in the context of Poland's political landscape?
Antonina> It’s been a controversial year in Poland with abortion being banned, leading to nationwide protests where people were fighting for women’s rights. Of course it’s not the only reason for the campaign but seeing how many people came together to fight for change was very empowering and motivating to do something about it.
Additionally, it’s no secret that the life of an LGBT person in Poland is not easy. The same woman who banned abortion in Poland has just banned Gay Pride – and that’s only the tip of the iceberg.
Pablo> We, in line with the client’s new purpose-driven strategy, wanted to use the reach of commercial communication to give support to the millions of women in Poland who need it at this moment. And we’ve decided to do so by using the immense power of representation. Showing women who exist, even when some people in power wouldn’t like them to.
LBB> How did that develop into the final concept and why is it such a powerful message?
Antonina> The political problems sparked a conversation about all the other times when women hear ‘NO’. It’s not just the government saying NO to abortion. It’s also society expecting us to act a certain way, to dress a certain way, to be in a certain relationship, not to be too emotional but also not too manly, to lose weight, to gain weight. It's all a bunch of rules we will no longer tolerate. Each woman is powerful and perfect the way she is and we want to spread that message and make a change. YES as the word, as well as the brand was perfect to stand for every woman out there.
Pablo> During the whole process, our mantra was to show compelling situations in which women would be said NO by society, and how they happened to go against the grain and say YES instead. By doing so, we wanted to spark the conversation about why the NOs existed in the first place, and if people in Poland would be ready to change their perception about those topics.
LBB> Why was it right for the jewellery brand YES?
Antonina> YES is the essence of women power. It is a brand made by women, for women. Even jewellery is a symbol of power. It gives us confidence, lets us express ourselves and that’s exactly what we want for all women, to feel that power. With everything going on in Poland we wanted to be a part of the conversation and make a change.
Pablo> If a company is entitled to launch a message like this, that is YES. It’s a company founded by a woman - Maria Magdalena Kwiatkiewicz - in a time in which women had unfortunately less prominence in business. On top of that, every single key role from the client side during the creation of this campaign was fulfilled by women. Female empowerment was always a big part of the brand’s DNA.
LBB> What motivated you to select the individuals that the campaign champions?
Antonina> We started by creating a storyline based on five controversial topics for women in Poland that we wanted to normalise. We chose the Polish Olympic player Kasia Zillmann who broke the news by publicly talking about her girlfriend on live TV. We chose Ola Żebrowska who’s known to show herself breastfeeding on social media, publicly talking about motherhood. We chose Aleksandra Wiederek-Barańska,who has been encouraging women to test themselves for breast cancer for years to show that a breast mastectomy doesn’t make you any less of a woman. We chose Bogna Golec who’s beginning her career as a plus sized model to show that all bodies are beautiful. And we chose Christina Flagmeier and Goldie Ichenda-Kevin to normalise mixed families and to show that you can live your life and do what you want at any age. As a matter of fact, Christina became a model after the age of 70, so that speaks for itself.
I also believe that every person has a female element in them so we wanted to celebrate those who feel like a woman even they were not born biologically as one, which is why we chose Neo Mosa, a transgender person who is featured in other touchpoints of the campaign.
Pablo> We definitely wanted to create an empowering narrative, so we first did that, and only then found the perfect individuals for that narrative to come alive. We didn’t do it the other way around because even when the women portrayed in this spot are very remarkable, women as a whole are more important.
Pablo and Antonina
LBB> What were the biggest decisions in the process? And what guided how you made those choices>
Antonina> On the first day of the shoot we got the information that TV stations were doubtful about some of the scenes, so we had to consider alternative options. Do we need different shots? Alternative wardrobe? We definitely spent some time on set thinking about it, but we ended up sticking to the original plan. If someone considers a problem showing a scar after a mastectomy, then it’s our job to take the risk and open up a conversation about it. Same goes for showing two girls kissing and a plus-sized model wearing a bodysuit. It shouldn’t be taboo.
Pablo> We knew exactly what we wanted to communicate, and we stuck to our guns. We decided to keep the original script, down to the last detail, even under the risk of TV stations not broadcasting our commercial. We didn’t want to compromise our vision just for the sake of reaching more people. Fortunately, the stations (except the national television) finally decided to broadcast it untouched.
LBB> What has the reaction to the campaign been like in Poland and internationally?
Antonina> The reaction was incredible! Especially on the emotional level with so many women writing long, personal comments about how the campaign is making them feel, how needed it was, how it’s time to make a change. Many people said they got the chills, that they’re watching the spot over and over again – that’s not something you typically do with an ad.
The reaction was just proof that what we created is valuable and that the message we wanted to send came across, creating female power and the need for more disruption. It’s incredible that the estimated reach of the campaign in just the first two weeks is said to be 25 million! And it wasn’t just people commenting, it was also other advertising agencies writing about the strategy and braveness of the campaign and how other brands should follow the lead. I’m incredibly proud to have worked on this campaign, and especially as a woman, the whole process was very personal to me.
Pablo> The reaction to our campaign was overwhelmingly positive, thousands of people were touched by it in many countries around the world. Of course there were also negative responses: Polish National TV (managed by the ruling party) decided not to broadcast the commercial, and of course there were very few hateful comments on the internet. But you know what they say, haters gonna hate. And we prefer to stay with all the positives, which are definitely many more.
Also, on a personal note, it was very special to me, as a Spaniard, that Spanish advertising portals published about the campaign; it was awesome that my family and friends could read about it.
LBB> Is there anything else about this campaign that you think it's important or interesting to add?
Antonina> It’s important to add that this is just the beginning. We don’t want this to end with a TV spot, it’s way more than that for us, for YES and for everyone else involved. We are ready to disrupt, just give us some time to find out more.
Pablo> Exactly, this TVC was just the first step of our partnership with an extraordinary client. We are working on new empowering projects which will see the light in 2022. You’ll hear again about YES soon enough.