A love letter to This Girl Can for the jiggling arses we now take for granted

A love letter to This Girl Can for the jiggling arses we now take for granted

A softly jiggling arse in maybe slightly too tight bikini bottoms, below a whisper of muffin top.

This was how THIS GIRL CAN smashed its way onto our TV screens, nearly eight years ago, to the freakin’ fantastic strains of Missy Elliott.

And, as the campaign this week launched its fifth iteration, I wanted to celebrate it, and the original advert.

Nowadays, (and cheers to it!) you can’t move for imperfect jiggling arses.

There's period pads on show, not-size-zero-models and realistic depictions of bodily fluids. But back in 2015, utter female perfection – with Dove as the exception – still really ruled the roost.

In THIS GIRL CAN, we finally saw ourselves: fat girls, thin girls, somewhere in between girls, Black girls, white girls, dual heritage girls, disabled girls, gay girls, sweaty girls, fit girls, unfit girls, girls with nails, girls with lip rings, girls sticking two fingers up to expectations, girls not giving two shits about what anyone else thinks.

It's hard to remember now how things were in the year 2014 BTGC (Before THIS GIRL CAN) but this was one of the rare occasions when it genuinely felt like advertising shifted the world.

There’s a saying I love; “Use what’s dominant in culture to change it”. THIS GIRL CAN didn’t just use what was dominant. It used it, abused it and refused it.

Mantras inspired by the women in the ads like “I’m slow but I’m lapping everyone on the couch” became battle cries for the idea that whichever way women chose to move was magnificent.

And I’m convinced the stereotype-busting, taboo-stomping ads the industry has loved since, like Viva La Vulva, Womb Stories, maybe even Fearless Girl were built on the (literal) blood, sweat and tears of THIS GIRL CAN before them.

I was part of the THIS GIRL CAN team for the comms campaign successfully helping pull-off its ‘second album’ and it was amazing to see its alchemy from the inside.

What were some of the secrets behind this ‘once in a decade, stars all seem to be in alignment’ creative?

Well, all the things that result in good work: A clear problem to solve, an incredible insight team, a strategy that used fresh thinking to change convention, a very strong sense of brand self, building meticulously well-thought through stakeholder and media support, and a collaborative team backed by talented, open-minded clients comfortable with doing something challenging.

Oh, and simplicity.

I can still recite from memory the manifesto that FCB’s strategy team set their creatives instead of a standard brief: Women come in all shapes and sizes and all levels of ability. It doesn’t matter if you’re rubbish or an expert. The point is you’re a woman and you’re doing something. Ditto the framework: Liberating women from judgement over appearance, ability and priorities.

It felt like our initiation to first learn them and then truly understand them.

The manifesto and framework had the kind of fits-into-a-tweet simplicity that only comes from a lot of really, really hard graft. And in a world where often the temptation is to add another strategy, another document, another explanation, another diagram, another viewpoint, another word, THIS GIRL CAN neatly summed up centuries-worth of shit in under 275 characters.

I absolutely hate it when people describe their work as ‘brave’ – let’s be honest, the greatest peril most of us face is the prospect of a nasty paper cut.

But this is one campaign that genuinely deserves that moniker.

It seems ridiculous now that showing women sweating, jiggling or red faced was potentially shocking, that the ASA didn’t have guidelines around body image or that letters of complaint would be received but until the bravissimo new world of THIS GIRL CAN, that really was the case.

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