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How to incorporate empathy into the creative process

Create work that resonates with these practical tips

Illustration by Alice Prentice

When working with certain subjects it pays to put yourself in the shoes of the consumer and make them feel seen and understood. Bodyform and AMV BBDO have developed Live Fearless over the last seven years through Blood Normal, Viva la Vulva and now the award-winning Womb Stories exploding body myths and lifting the lid on menstrual taboos.

Womb Stories has encouraged women to open up about their experiences around menstrual health from discussing uterine health, miscarriage and fertility to wanting to live child-free. The hashtag and campaign have helped those it touched to share support, experiences and information across the world. 

In order to create such resonating campaigns, the team used empathic and intuitive research techniques in the development process in order to better tell a wide range of stories and connect to more people.

Here, we present some learnings from our Creative Mindset Masterclass with FutureLearn on Empathy, where the Strategist Bea Farmelo and Board Account Director Sarah Hore-Lacy from the team at AMV BBDO responsible for Womb Stories and #Livefearless for Bodyform, share their learnings on fostering an empathetic creative approach.

Deconstruct the dominant narrative

Prior to working with AMV BBDO, Bodyform’s target audience had been 16-25, thus forgetting the majority of women who use sanitary products. In broadening their scope, Farmelo and Hore-Lacy realised that not only were women keen to speak about their relationship to their periods, fertility and uterine health, they also really connected to one another through experience and knowledge sharing.

In taking on board that there is no one female narrative, the team broadened their scope, fulfilling their brief and connecting with a greater range of women in a more authentic way. Through gathering information, observing cultural discourse and deep listening, the team gained emotional insight into the deeply personal relationship women have their wombs and periods. 

“We knew if we wanted empathy in the creative, we would have to bring empathy back into the research stage and we knew if we used the same formulaic questions and methodologies, we just wouldn’t get the results that we wanted,” says Farmelo. 

Keep up-to-date with research

By dispensing of a ‘cookie cutter approach’ you can connect with your consumer in a way which really speaks to their needs and their identity. This can aid spontaneous and reactive decisions that tap into what is happening in an industry right now.

Farmelo and Hore-Lacy noticed the impact of a culture of sharing stories around health from fertility to endometriosis both privately and publicly on social media – an observation which inspired a reactive social media campaign. This strategy not only facilitated spontaneous creativity it gave voice to values that still sit at the heart of the project. 

“We always thought that at the heart of it this is about sharing,” says Hore-Lacy.

Build diverse perspectives into your team

Taking time to get to know your team beyond their skillset and gaining an understanding where their personal strengths lie can help you to structure your team to maximise their potential. On this project, that meant selecting team members who not only had the skills for the job but had also experienced some of the issues addressed in the project. 

This result was that from the research stage to the point at which they were bringing those ideas to life, the team could really connect with the material and intuitively understand what would parse and what wouldn’t. 

You can also facilitate your team in a holistic way by creating comprehensive briefs which act as a springboard. The strategy for a #Livefearless campaign starts when a member of the team creates detailed, inspiring, thorough creative briefs, drawing in texture, cultural discourse, literature, memes and more.

Be agile with your voice

If a relationship with a client is successful it can last a long time and the voice of your campaign may need to change – and quickly. By operating in the moment and staying up-to-date you can pivot your ideas fluidly, making your project agile and versatile. 

“I think that where we moved on from particular campaigns is that we had identified this one glaring taboo that existed within society that was the absence of period blood and the second was the quest for the perfect vulva. With Womb Stories it was about all the feelings that swirl around that fluid, let’s jump in,” says Farmelo of their journey with #Livefearless.

Identify a guiding principles

If everyone fully understands what guides a project then everyone, no matter their role, can undertake their tasks with an unspoken unity. It also gives everyone a point of reference that they can use when dealing with sensitive subject matter so reaching consumers without triggering them.

“If we keep looking at all the taboos and shame in society that are holding our consumers back as the north star for our strategy and creative work hopefully, we can keep the bar high,” says Hore-Lacy. 

Take the Creative Mindset: Collaboration course on Future Learn here. Discover more online learning with D&AD here. Discover more online learning with D&AD here.

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