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Words I Never Thought I Would Say at a Press Conference: “Man Boobs”

By on June 18, 2016

This weekend I served on a jury at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity.  The jury was charged with awarding the “Grand Prix for Good” – a prize designed to raise the profile of innovative campaigns around social issues. And, in a strange turn of events, it all led to me having to say the words “man boobs” in front of a room of international press.  This is not anything I predicted I’d do during my career, but I’m glad it happened. My time with the jurors has already taught me new lessons about public engagement, campaigns, listening to all sides of an argument, and creating noise that leads to social good.


I won’t go into great detail about the deliberations, but let me say that the debate session was like a masterclass in creativity.  I always learn so much from the people that come to this event…and this year’s jury was no exception.  My fellow jurors were the creative leads for some of the world’s most prestigious global agencies…including McCann, Havas, Omnicom, and the Publicis Group.  They brought with them perspectives spanning the globe.  Debating over the top campaigns in global public health and wellness with this group provides a window into what makes a campaign different, fresh and provocative.  These experts know how to get people talking.  And I think today’s jury selection will do just that -at least I hope so.


The three campaigns we reviewed as finalists were all different.  They targeted different audiences with different styles with different budgets.  A unifying theme was a passion for improving the lives of people and finding a voice for an issue that had either gone unnoticed or had started to fade into the background.  Links to the various campaigns are found below.  I hope you will take a moment to learn more about them.

Missing Text (UK)

Last Words (India)

Man Boobs (Argentina)


In a world where there are serious social and policy issues, these three campaigns rose to the top not only because of the scope of the issues they took on but also because of the way in which the campaigns were designed.  I was impressed by how many times the jurors sought to carefully make their determination by addressing the following questions: “What shows clever strategy?  What delivered the best result for the organization?  Which campaign told the most unexpected or compelling story?  Which campaign will be remembered most?”


Everyone wants a campaign that will “go viral.”  Communicators seek for this holy grail of public engagement.  But what I learned from today’s jury deliberations was that going viral isn’t about shock factor, it is about uncharted territory.  The campaigns that covered new ground in both strategy and implementation were those that captured the imagination of the juries at Cannes.


So, how does this end with me saying the words man boobs?  You can just imagine.  The campaign that was chosen by the jury for the Grand Prix for Good was the #ManBoobs4Boobs campaign, designed by the David agency on behalf of the ACMA organization in Argentina. The campaign depicts a woman conducting and explaining the steps for breast self-examination using a man’s (rather voluptuous) chest. This choice was a risky one – but the lessons that this campaign brought to the community were important.


[Note:  It is important to acknowledge here that breast self examination is an issue where experts do not agree.  In 2015 the American Cancer Society stopped recommending breast self examination as a screening tool based on analysis of breast cancer outcomes and survival rates.  The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists is reviewing its position in response to the ACS announcement, but both organizations emphasize that women need to know what is normal for their breasts and talk to their healthcare providers about what’s best for them. Read more in the links above].


This campaign was awarded the Grand Prix for Good because it did something that few social campaigns ever do: it got people talking about an issue who are not directly associated with it.  It brought new people into the issue while cleverly overcoming barriers to social discourse (e.g. over-sexualization of breasts in advertising, breast cancer, and internet rules preventing the depiction of female nipples- even in conjunction with health issues).  Because of the campaign, a debate ensued.  And that debate has helped people take greater responsibility for their health by talking about it with their healthcare provider, their peers, and even the men in their lives.  The related issue of men’s health and breast cancer was also broached as part of the campaign.


While I fully expect the award to get people talking, I hope that it gets communicators in global public health (and global issues in general) talking about how to bring new or different spokespeople into the mix.  It is harder to break through the noise today, and fresh approaches to communications strategies and campaigns are no longer a luxury, but a necessity.  I realized this as the words “man boobs” came out of my mouth during today’s press conference.  We have a lot of work to do if we are going to help communicate with clarity, purpose and innovation about the complex global issues of our time.  I do this for a living, and I know that issues like the UN’s global goals for sustainable development, the refugee crisis, climate change and women’s empowerment require and deserve serious attention. However, that work has to be new and different if it’s going to create political will and get people’s attention.  We need a new approach to public communications that is as ambitious as the goals we have set for our world.




Aaron Sherinian
Washington, DC

I am a Communicator, Dad and Global PR guy who is inspired by the fascinating people in my life. I love the challenges that a new world of communications means for those of us who work across borders and time zones to try and create powerful conversations that will make the world a better place.