Why #SmearForSmear won’t be going global – and why it should

When we all saw our first Facebook friends posting bare-faced selfies for Cancer Research last year, little did we know we were seeing the beginning of a revolution. But the no make-up selfie, followed by the even more vigorously embraced ice bucket challenge have shown that what we have been striving for in the charity sector for years – widespread, obsessive, ongoing public engagement with a cause – can be possible. And now we’ve seen it, we’re hungry for more.




Every marketing, fundraising and communications team, or anyone with any influence over their organisation’s social media, is asking, what’s next? Even I’m guilty of this, being the face and one of the drivers of the Charities Aid Foundation’s very own, though admittedly already established, social media fad – the ‘#UNselfie’ for #GivingTuesday.


Pudsey's #UNselfie


But that’s the question we’ve all been scratching our heads over. What is it that makes these campaigns successful and how can we make sure we lead the next one?


Over the last few weeks, it looked like Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust would be the next to crack this weighty question and were well on their way to another headline-storming, feed-invading success. #SmearForSmear asks women to post smudged lipstick selfies to raise awareness of cervical cancer and encourage young women to go in for regular smear tests. It has all the elements of a great viral charity craze…


A pertinent issue with compelling facts and a clear goal… Did you know? Cervical cancer is the most common form of cancer in women under 35 – and eight UK women are diagnosed every day. It can be prevented though – one of the few cancers that can – yet a third of women between 25 and 29 don’t take up their smear test invitations. They should. Let’s raise awareness. Simple.


Smear Facts


A clever and thought-provoking connection… Obviously the actual social media act has to be once removed from the cause. We couldn’t ask for mid-smear-test selfies – although, those may have got far more media attention. No, this is just right, the play on the word smear, the use of make-up to highlight the female focus. We get it.


A nod to narcissism… Doing something faintly ridiculous to your appearance in the name of charity is a long-established idea. A sponsored head shave, hair dye, leg wax – we’ve all sponsored many such peculiar things. And the common factor in all of these social media crazes? Making the individual the star. Preferably in a way that highlights their modesty, proving a complete unconcern for their appearance (with the obvious benefit of looking great despite all this). Lipstick smudge? Perfect.


But, despite looking great on paper and making some headlines, surprisingly this idea hasn’t had quite the same cut through as some previous campaigns. But let’s just back up here… These are the three main factors we imagine we would see in a social charity campaign – but are they really what guarantees success? In fact, if you look at the two big campaigns of last year, they are common only in the last point.


The no make-up selfie was actually widely criticised for having a very tenuous connection to the cause and no clear goal. Before I refreshed my memory on this, all I could remember about the money raised and why was “women, Cancer Research – something.” The Ice bucket challenge was similarly vague and directionless – to the extent that many different charities tried to jump on the bandwagon, not just those associated with motor neurone disease, but also people like Water Aid tried to make their own mark on the movement.


What the #SmearForSmear campaign and the subsequent surrounding debate has done most for me is shine a light on the most successful social media campaigns we’ve seen over the last year – and the more worrying elements of what makes up their popularity. We have previously raised our concerns about this when it came to the ice bucket challenge. And now it’s particularly worrying that addressing an issue head on, as Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust have so expertly done, appears to be too direct an approach.


But we need to do this in the charity sector. We need to talk about the issues noone else can. That’s what we’re here for. The no make-up selfie and the ice bucket challenge played to the public arena, started by individuals then cleverly adapted by various organisations to their agendas. But as a result of this the cause itself never did take centre stage – it was more of an afterthought.


I’m not saying these campaigns weren’t amazing in themselves. They undoubtedly did a huge amount of good and were an inspiring start towards getting charity issues fully into the mainstream. But #SmearForSmear took a step further, not pandering to the public, but taking a new and challenging approach. We need to take the energy that clearly exists for these new movements and channel it into more targeted ideas which will have much more of a real impact.


So I say to everyone doubting its success, #SmearForSmear has taken one big step on the way to achieving an incredible feat in positioning these campaigns in a new and much more effective way. Keep up the good work, keep smearing.

Here’s mine…


smear for smear

– Emily Gorton

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