In 2016, PHD’s ‘Yasmin’s Sex-Ed Revolution’ caught China by surprise with its bold campaign addressing one of the country’s greatest cultural taboos – sex and contraception. Despite challenging China’s authorities and infringing their content regulations, the campaign went viral in a matter of days, proving that it was exactly what millions of China’s young adults were waiting for.

Embarking on a sex education revolution, PHD’s mobile-led campaign featured two candid sex education videos that were distributed through China’s number one timetable APP for mobile, reaching over 18 million students across 3,000 Chinese universities.

These videos were dropped into students’ curriculums as a compulsory class at 9pm every night. In one week, the videos acquired 12 million views climbing to 30 million within the first month. The fan page on Weibo was read by over 20 million users, sparking over 100,000 online discussions on a topic traditionally thought to be taboo. Reported as “an event owed to generations in China”, ‘Yasmin’s Sex-Ed Revolution’ achieved global recognition at the 2017 Cannes Lions festival , claiming a Silver Mobile Lion for use of social purpose and crowning PHD as the only submitting media agency in China to win a Lion.

Lara Yang, Group Social Director at Omnicom Media Group China takes us behind the scenes of ‘Yasmin’s Sex-Ed Revolution’ and how the campaign was conceived.


Can you describe how you came up with the idea?

This idea didn’t happen on a whim, but rather, it took place on a solid understanding of our client’s business and challenges. Although combined oral contraceptives (COC) are the most popular contraception method in the west, they come under crushing pressure in China because of deep-rooted misconceptions. If we really wanted something to work, the solution was very simple: always go back to the basics and try to solve the root of the cause. In this case, the root-cause was the lack of sex education – our key problem to tackle.

What was the key moment in developing the idea—why was it so crucial?

We had been wanting to do a large-scale sex education campaign on digital platforms for a very long time. Despite not being presented with an opportunity to do so in the past, we never stopped thinking about the chance to carry it out in the future. Luckily, during a very regular media visit with our media partners, I suddenly came up with an idea and had a breakthrough—how sexy would it be if we were able to make sex education classes mandatory on social media? (China insight: Sharing sex-related topics in public is considered highly inappropriate).

What was the driving insight behind the idea?

We believe in perseverance and having an in-depth understanding of our clients, their products, and society as a whole. When we encounter a new issue, we keep digging until we find the key obstacle and then break it down into actionable countermeasures. In our case, a lack of sex education is the primary reason for China’s abundant abortions. However, there is nothing of sufficient breadth to solve this problem.

Throughout our research, we understood that students didn’t have much knowledge  when it came to sex education despite being something widely accepted and implemented in other countries. Moreover, Chinese authorities had no plans to do anything different in the foreseeable future. The gigantic gap between the identified need and supply provided us with the opportunity to appear as a pro-bono figure whilst raising the client’s brand awareness.

 

Why do you think this idea worked?

We have a profound understanding of where our client’s business problems lie and created a distinguished way of engaging with them by presenting our content in an unexpected manner. By placing our branded content into our target audience’s daily schedule, we appeared as another mandatory class. Timing here was key, we chose the “back to school” season to kick off our campaign, thereby amplifying the social media context of the campaign.

 

Finally, what advice would you give your colleagues facing difficulties with their campaign execution?

Love what you do

Loving what you do is probably the only thing that will help you through difficult times and always help you stay vitalised.

 

Always go back to basics

Although technology evolves and media landscapes expand, a human being always remains human. Regardless of whether you are trying to sell an idea to a client or launch a media campaign, the receiving end will always be human, and we should always take what matters to another fellow human into account.

 

Don’t take the easy road, take the right one

The true pleasure of an agency job is that you get the chance to do what you want. I really don’t see the point in copying the same work again and again. What I enjoy the most at work is creating something new and getting the chance to see how it works. Although the implication of this can result in long office hours, the rewards always outweigh the costs.

 

Thinking back on the Yasmin campaign, I recall how difficult it was to produce sex-education content in China – a task that is already difficult enough as it is, let alone going about distributing it on social media channels – distributing it on the curriculum APP was a really crazy call!

I still remember when the media owner called me a day after our content was published, saying that they would have to remove it because government authorities claimed, “it may be disturbing to our students”. Instead of giving in to them, I showed them the comments on social media from netizens who were sharing their appreciation towards the campaign and managed to make them believe in the vision I had and that we were making the right decision.

When asked about my most distinct memory of the campaign, it wouldn’t be the difficulties we were up against. Instead, it would be the moment I heard back from the media owner saying, “Lara, we are fine! You don’t need to worry anymore because the government authorities concluded that displaying this content is the right thing to do, and we can keep displaying it”.

At that moment I almost cried, knowing the difference I had made to the sex education landscape in China as well as preventing unnecessary abortions.