In Moldova, campaigners created a full-fledged campaign with a strongly defined strategy. They reveal the story behind the story, and what it took to have a profound impact on Moldovan public opinion.
From Fabrica de imagine site and interview with Artiom Zavadovsky, GENDERDOC-M
What was the context of the campaign?
GENDERDOC-M Information Centre is the only NGO in Moldova that works in the field of defending and promoting LGBT rights. We had organised public campaigning activities in past years, but with no specific external support and with little visibility and of relative quality. As a matter of fact, surveys showed that negative views towards LGBT people had actually increased in recent years. In 2016 we were considering launching a new action under the slogan “no hate”, but we sensed we had to get one level deeper and address the roots causes of homophobia and not just talk about its expression, i.e. hate. We knew we had to be more effective in developing message that would directly address these roots.
How did you do this?
In order to understand what caused such intolerance, we teamed up with the PR agency “Fabrica de imagine”. The first step was to conduct a qualitative study using the method of guided interview, by which we identified attitudes towards LGBT people.
After analyzing the results of these studies, we found out that the main underlying factor in perceptions of LGBT people was FEAR. With many forms of expression such as fear of contagion, fear of being “recruited”, fear for the traditional societal roles. And since fear is actually something that LGBT and cis heterosexual people have in common, we realised that this aspect is something that could actually help us connect to each other. We wanted to have a campaign that would generate empathy of cis heterosexual people towards LGBT people, so we had to find a common ground. The realisation that we all know fear, and that we all want to break free from it, provided this common ground.
So we decided that the campaign would be based on the positive message of liberation from fear.
Who was the specific target group of the campaign?
The campaign’s objective was to influence silent homophobes, whose attitude would be influenced by the understanding that between the LGBT community and the rest of the citizens of this country, there were no differences, because we all have the same feelings, including fear. The campaign also aimed directly at LGBT people themselves by giving them the confidence to overcome their own fears. The third target was public figures, who in private conversations support LGBT people but do not show their support publicly because it is not popular or accepted by the majority.
What general approach did you take?
One of the first decisions we made during the campaign concept elaboration was to apply the principle of “hidden approach”. Homophobia is so strong in the country that if we had been transparent on the objective from the outset, people would have closed off to it. So we needed to take a “foot in the door” approach by which we get people to walk part of the way before we tell them the destination. So our plan was to have people show positive interest in the campaign before we would reveal what it was all about.
So we decided to develop a two-phased approach. Firstly, we developed the “No Fear” slogan without mentioning that it focused on LGBT people and got people curious about it, as well as engaging in the process of liberation from fear by talking about their own fears. We launched two types of teaser videos with the simple questions “What is your biggest fear?” and “What would you do on the day when you got rid of it?” with the same people answering both questions. Videos with the second question were launched a week after the first teasers had appeared. The initial campaign materials, like its Facebook page and YouTube page, were unbranded, with no mention of the organisation behind it.
Only later did we “come out” as the campaign had already gathered a lot of interest, including from the media. Actually a lot of people thought it was a campaign lead by a political party, so imagine their surprise!
Another element was that we needed to come out directly with cis heterosexual supporters. If there had been only LGBT people featured, our audience would have dismissed the message. We had to talk to people through the people they could relate to. So we went in search of allies, which was really not easy. Imagine that even part of the film crew that had to work on the production of the main campaign video was so homophobic that they did not event want to work on this project. So finding people to publicly support the cause was not easy, even if a lot of people in the “creative” sectors such as show business support LGBT people in private. But we eventually found the right supporters to allow us to shoot a series of videos each of which was specifically tailored to the exact segment of the target group (Russian-speaking allies for that linguistic minority in Moldova, young people to address their peers, etc.)
In these videos, we mixed up LGBT people, ordinary citizens and celebrities in order to blur the boundaries between categories to further promote empathy and implicitly maintain LGBT visibility. These videos were posted on the partner media websites and buzzed. We got over 1000 Facebook page likes in the first week which, to our standards, is a good success.
You can watch all the interviews made during the “No Fear” campaign on the Youtube channel of the campaign.
How did you take this concept of “liberation from fear” further?
One of the most striking creative actions of this campaign was to develop “a letter from your fear”: a letter written to people by their own fear, telling them they could now live without it and say goodbye to it.
“Hello, I am fear. We’ve known each other for ages. I appeared in your life when you were a child. I appeared to provide you protection. In the beginning, I protected you from the dark, then from the bad people, but I also protected you from the good ones. I protected you from the first “No” and no love, from the critics and from those who are not capable of appreciating true values. Sometimes I protected you from your own self. From the words that may hurt. You’ve grown up. You are special. You are unique. I feel I’m not protecting you anymore. You know, if I stay in one’s life for too long, I may kill their dreams and hopes. At the moment the only thing I’m doing is stopping you from doing what you know, from the bottom of your heart, you can do better. Better than anybody else. You deserve more. What stops you? Fear of failure, fear of change, fear of the unknown? You know better. Who did you dream of becoming when you were little? What about now? Do not step back. Well, I’m writing to you because I must leave you because your life will be better without me. Because you know well who you are and what you are capable of. Thank you for having been next to me. Stay happy, #FărăFrică (No Fear)”
The letter was sent to about 4000 people, including celebrities, politicians, opinion leaders, diplomatic missions, journalists, etc.
The idea of sending out letters stemmed from the necessity to communicate directly with the public, with every person individually, for the message to be perceived through a personal prism. We created a context in which those who received a letter like this would question themselves and think about the possibility of overcoming problems they faced. Shortly, after the dispatch of letters they became viral on social networks. Several users posted pictures of the envelope and the letter itself, expressing their opinions about the message
So how did you “come out”?
One week after launching the campaign “anonymously”, May 17th, the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, the annual MoldovaPride Festival opened, and the campaign was at the center of the festival’s communication.
We then launched the official “response video” to the teaser. This video illustrates the process of „liberation from fear”. In this case, the fear looks like tar, and the video shows that the liberation from it makes us stronger and better. The video was produced by the production house, MILK Films, of Fabrica de imagine.
One of the central actions held on that day was a flashmob which aimed to raise awareness on the rights of LGBT people by emphasizing the inequality that exists in society towards the perception regarding the manifestation of affection in public by LGBT people. In the centre of Chișinău, capital city of Moldova, volunteers of the AIESEC-Chișinău organisation formed a silent square, symbol of the social campaign “No Fear”, and in the end they displayed a banner saying, “We’re not afraid to hold hands in public. LGBT people are.”
Two days later we also held a press conference with some of the celebrities who took part in the campaign. It was supported by the EU Delegation to Moldova and US Embassy. The aim of press conference was to invite everybody to take part in the upcoming Solidarity March “No Fear”, which was the official MoldovaPride March held for the fourth year in a row. It was the first time when the march itinerary was announced publicly prior to the event.
The culmination of events was the Solidarity March “No Fear” held on Sunday, May 22nd.
This March had been attacked the year before. How did you mitigate the risks this time?
In line with the communication strategy of the campaign we decided to downplay the focus on LGBT rights and to stay on track with the message. So the “No Fear” visual was the only symbol that we used. We decided not to use any rainbow flags or other LGBT symbols, because this is exactly what all the homophobes, right-wing and religious extremists had expected us to march with. Instead, our decision was to march in silence, dressed in black-and-white T-shirts with the campaign’s logo in the front and the message “There is no fear under this T-shirt” on the back.
The absence of LGBT symbols also made it easier for allies or non-out LGBT people to join the march, whose attendance doubled in 2016 in comparison with the last year’s event. Our main aim was to maintain a very peaceful profile that would create a huge contrast with the violence of potential attacks. The Solidarity March “No Fear” was covered by all media outlets with national coverage from Moldova, media outlets from Romania, Russia, Ukraine, France, and Australia. A total amount of 170 articles and reports about the March were broadcast and published. We managed to walk 5 out of the 8 blocks of the planned route due to the violent attack on the march from religious bigots and right-wing extremists. We turned these 5 blocks into a measurement of our road to freedom. Next year we’ll walk further!
Many campaigns struggle with their visual identity. How did you decide on the visual?
Of course the campaign needed to have a strong visual identity, so we handed this over to the creative agency, who came up with the concept of a black square/box, which meant to symbolise the shape and the colour of fear. The box expressed the idea that our fears keep us imprisoned and don’t let us think outside of the box.
The campaign concept was conceived to evolve over 3 years, so the logo also is meant to evolve, with the black box representing fear gradually becoming smaller and eventually disappearing.
Were there changes in your plans? Things you had to adapt?
The agency had initially planned public events in bars and restaurants but the response was negative and we had to give up on them. There were many other ideas that had to be abandoned. A lesson learnt is that you have to be realistic, flexible and let plans go off even if they look great. Also, we had to restrict the duration of the campaign because there was no way it could overlap with the Easter celebrations, which are very important for the country.
What resources did you mobilise all over the course of this campaign?
This campaign cost us a fortune, around €45K. But we believe its impact was worth every cent.
How did GENDERDOC-M get ready to engage into such a resource-intensive process?
Like many organisations we started from a position where we thought we just know best and can rely on our own knowledge. It was a training session on communications which raised our awareness of the complexities of communicating effectively for social change and this transformed our approach. We realised that our knowledge was very much focused on what to change, not on how to change it. We conducted internal discussions and mainstreamed the understanding that we had to work on the causes, not on the expressions of homo/transphobia. We realised that we did not have the expertise internally and we probably never will, so our approach to campaigning now is based on the belief that everything should be done by professionals, and that’s why we rely on external support.
What are the outcomes of this campaign and how can you observe them?
The quantitative outputs of the campaign were excellent. During the campaign page posts were viewed over 100,000 times and post engagement exceeded 170,000 users. Videos of the campaign were viewed in a total amount of 28,000 users. We also got excellent media coverage.
Beyond that, the campaign kept being mentioned for a whole week after the events had been over, including in various TV shows. One of the campaign leaders was later invited by a simulation TV show to become one of their 12 candidates to the alternative position of Moldova’s president in a parallel run by non-political candidates during the real-life presidential election campaign. She made it to the finals thanks to the votes received from the TV show’s audience. Thus it is an indicator that the campaign really expanded the public space for LGBT people (and that she is just excellent on her own, of courseJ!) The slogan “No Fear” is now associated with the LGBT agenda so much that others have abandoned the idea of using it in order to avoid confusion.
This campaign has also really impressed other stakeholders who are now more trustful in our competence and more confident to side with us as allies. This boost of our profile has also impacted on the community, and people have definitely gained more trust in us and themselves!
We believe that one of the most important outcomes of the Social Campaign “No Fear” is to achieve a paradigm shift that transforms the fight for the rights of LGBT people into the fight for the rights of every citizen. We have realised this by analysing the content of articles and reports about the Solidarity March “No Fear” and by analysing reactions of some opinion leaders.
- Find the common ground between your target and you. Here, the notion of FEAR provided this. The core principle of a campaign is that it’s not about what YOU want to say, it’s about what your TARGET GROUP is able to hear. However, focusing only on your target group also creates a lot of frustration with your community, who feels the campaign is not considering them. Finding a common focus that can work both for your target group and for your community is a huge bonus.
- Invest in research of the target group. Often organisations have some elements about the problem, e.g. statistics of hate speech/crimes or surveys about social attitudes and opinions towards LGBT people. Very seldom do they identify credible elements of the problem’s causes. Investigating this is the key to developing effective messaging. Existing knowledge can be pulled by associating researchers to the campaign planning team, but almost always there will be the need to conduct qualitative interviews with members of the target groups. Involving members of the target group in the campaign planning team might be a challenge but it can be worth it.
- If the context is too hostile, be subtle in your approach and consider choosing a “foot in the door” technique. Telling people in advance how you want them to change is not strategic: no one likes to know they are being changed. So communications that clearly state what change you seek are probably going to raise defensiveness.
- Stay on track! One of the most difficult things in a campaign is to stick to your messaging policy. You might be attacked by opponents and can’t resist the temptation to “snap back”. Or a good opportunity might come along to surf on some other message that becomes mainstream, or to jump on the bandwagon of a debate that gets public attention. Here, the organisers decided to stay on track and stick to the campaign message and frame and not to use the “Pride” frame and its rainbow flag visual. A good lesson of coherence and message discipline.
- Make sure you have the right resources: A campaign of this magnitude, accomplished in such a short time is possible only if you’re working with teams of professionals, who believe in the idea of the campaign and are ready to work 24/7 for its implementation.