The Vagina Museum is the world’s first physical museum dedicated to gynaecological anatomy - which is pretty wild when you consider that half of the human population has one. As the museum’s mission to educate, empower and destigmatise gathers pace, they’re moving from their old home in London’s Camden Market to new digs in the city’ Bethnal Green area.
In preparation for it’s re-opening, it’s introducing itself to the new neighbourhood with an eye-catching new out-of-home poster campaign. Combining arch puns – Mind the WAP – with a playfully eclectic art direction and punchy pink colour palette, the museum is building up a buzz ahead of its grand re-opening on March 19th. While some executions highlight the museum’s values or make anatomical jokes, others make links with well-known local establishments, truly embedding the museum in its new surroundings.
It’s a campaign that has clearly been a lot of fun for the creatives - but not without its challenges too. After all, they want to get the point across without, shall we say, pussyfooting around - but there are restrictions around what can be shown and some media owners can be nervous of even the most gentle euphemism. But those challenges have meant that the creative team have had to be all the more ingenious.
LBB’s Laura Swinton spoke to Nathalie, Amy, Jacob and designer Mirjami Quin to find out more.
LBB> This isn't your first time working with the Vagina Museum - why is it an organisation you've been drawn to working with and how has your creative relationship with them evolved?
Nathalie Gordon> Who doesn’t want to work with a genuinely progressive organisation who not only fight relentlessly to do good and educate people on the gynaecological anatomy but want to fight to get vaginas on billboards? Maybe if more clients wanted to stand for something agencies would be approaching them, rather than the other way around.
The Vagina Museum’s needs as a charity are simple and they aren’t clouded by things like KPIs so their ambition and bravery is almost unmatched; money is their only hurdle. Thankfully they have really supportive media partners in JackArts (part of the BUILDHOLLYWOOD family) and LondonLites and TheOr has the ability to work pro-bono with them.
LBB> What have you learned from the experience and relationship? Has it inspired you in your other work?
Amy> Building a relationship with the museum has been the dream. Dream clients. Dream cause. Dream work.
Working with them has taught us a lot about gynaecological health we didn’t know, and made us address our own internal biases surrounding our own bodies - and the societal biases we’re often fed. They’re the most inclusive museum going - and all it does is make us want to make more work which is equally as inclusive, bold, and important to society.
LBB> What was your starting point for this campaign?
Jacob> Our starting point for the ‘Neighbours’ campaign was in fact the Bethnal Green neighbourhood. We wanted to make a splash with the museum opening up in the area, and we started to notice a series of locations in the area that seemed a bit gynaecological too. Like ‘The Camel’ Pub. Even ‘The Pickle Factory’ feels a bit phallic. The more we looked around, the more we felt like the museum had found the perfect new home - and ran with it.
Nathalie> We also looked at the Vagina Museum offering, their values and the hurdles they face everyday as a progressive organisation - we wanted to show their neighbourhood what they stand and strive for.
LBB> There's a lot of humour in the campaigns for the Vagina Museum, especially this time round. Why is that tone the right one to take?
Amy> The Vagina Museum has always had a playful tone and an approach of humour in light of a subject which is shrouded in thousands of years of taboo and shame – and it’s only right to continue to talk in the same way. Their humour always makes conversations around gynaecological health easier to be had, and shows viewers that there’s nothing to be scared of. Because, believe it or not, even in 2022, people still feel uneasy talking about this stuff. Take the word vagina for instance. It’s a gynaecological term. But it’s considered a dirty word. People would rather say “thingy” instead. But if you want, you can actually say it. Vagina. Vagina. VAGINA. See. Nothing happens.
LBB> What are your favourite lines of the campaign and why?
Jacob> Our favourite lines of the campaign have to be ‘Be the first to come’ (of course). And ‘Mind the WAP’, which was written by TheOr’s wonderful junior creatives Tom and Dylan. Who wouldn’t want to pay a visit to the museum with bold headlines like those?!
LBB> It's a neighbourhood campaign and Bethnal Green is a really diverse and exciting neighbourhood in London. To what extent did the context that the campaign would sit in influence your approach?
Jacob> Bethnal Green is a great part of London, and we definitely wanted to introduce the neighbourhood to the Vagina Museum through the campaign. As we were creating the campaign, we started pulling in various local businesses and landmarks into the posters. We want the museum to feel part of Bethnal Green’s vibrant local community, rather than something that sits apart from it.
LBB> Talk me through the art direction - the posters are all quite distinct and yet certainly have a sense of cohesion through the colour palette. How did the team approach the art direction?
Mirjami> We started with the Vagina Museum colour palette. Pink isn’t actually a big part of their aesthetic as it’s so commonly associated with ‘girls’ but we wanted to challenge this and see how we could make pink feel powerful and dominant. You also don’t see pink being used that often in OOH campaigns, probably because of it’s stereotypical connotations so we knew that if we could work out a way to give it new meaning, it would really stand out.
We created 16 different posters that needed to work as a collection but also stand alone. Once we had worked through the visual tone of the campaign, we looked at the art direction of each poster individually. We wanted to ensure that there was personality and intelligence to everything we did - from copywriting, to design, to location choice.
LBB> The Vagina Museum takes a really open view and the campaign shows that the museum is for everyone, and also that people with vaginas don't fit into a binary box – one poster says explicitly it's for 'he, she, they, them'. Why was that an important part of the messaging?
Amy> The campaign is grounded in the museum’s mission - one important part of what they do is educating people around the fact that not everyone who has a vagina is a woman. Womxn, trans and non-binary people are a huge part of the museum and it’s reason for existing. The museum’s community and support comes from all sorts of different, wonderful people from different backgrounds – something we love embracing.
PS. YOU DON’T EVEN NEED TO HAVE A VAGINA TO LEARN ABOUT THEM EITHER! A huge amount of the museum’s visitors are male or male identifying. Everyone should, and can, learn about vaginas!
LBB> What were the most interesting conversations or challenges that you faced during the development of this campaign?
Jacob> As always with our work with the museum, there are certain taboos and restrictions that apply, particularly in OOH. For one, we can’t show any vaginas of course. However, even in approaching some potential media partners, they didn’t like the thought of even having the word ‘vagina’ on a billboard. We’re really lucky with our supportive media partners in JackArts (part of the BUILDHOLLYWOOD family) and LondonLites that they put two fingers up to taboos and embraced every part of the campaign, vag and all. Even Clear Channel have jumped on the bandwagon this year and donated space - they wouldn’t even return our calls in 2020!
Mirjami> Even in 2022, putting up these billboards means that sadly, our partners may receive a high number of complaints. There were a few the last time around. We’re just really grateful they’re on the same page as us, trying to tackle taboos head on.
Nathalie> And don’t get us started on email filters. Do you know how absolutely completely maddening it is that we have to asterix the word vagina in our emails so that filters don’t block them and send them to junk, assuming we’re soliciting sex? IT’S 2022 FFS.