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Cancer Research UK has received more than £2 million in #nomakeupselfie donations in just a few days despite having no part in starting the campaign. Is this the new paradigm of marketing we have been waiting for?

On Tuesday 18 March, women all across the UK started posting pictures of themselves on Facebook wearing no make up in support of Cancer Research UK. Within hours the #nomakeupselfies was trending, pulling in donations and support from every corner of the nation. But why did the no make up selfie capture the imagination of so many?

This year we have already witnessed the power of peer nomination trends such as a #neknominate, which leveraged core human behaviour to get a movement to spread through social communities. While no make up selfie utilised the same mechanics to achieve viral spread, there is a gigantic difference – it was kickstarted and managed by a community on behalf of the brand, leaving the brand with zero control of campaign message or execution.

As you would expect the campaign has come under the heat of criticism by various ‘qualified commentators’, with the main wave of opinion being offered is that cancer awareness has been trivialised by vanity and emotion, a sentiment that the marketing industry should stand against. This campaign has captured the imagination of the UK as a whole leading to £2 million in donations. But more significantly, in attribution terms for many women the #nomakeupselfie is the vital first step on a journey. You would expect many to now visit and like the CRUK Facebook page, you would expect some to now visit the CRUK website, you would expect some to make regular monthly contributions and some to become lifelong supporters of CRUK. That is the real power of community-led awareness campaigns.

What does this mean for brands? The reason I wrote this article is because there are a lot of marketing folk post-rationalising the success of this remarkable community-owned campaign. Yes, we can all piece together what happened and why afterward the event, however we have to acknowledge that sometimes the right thing happens at the right time incubating the virus and leading to the unimaginable spread of an idea [‘simples’]. There is only one thing we can take for certain from this campaign – the game has changed. The #nomakeupselfie is hard proof that your brand is in the hands of your community and they will do with it as they please, whether good or bad. The role of marketing is now to understand the new rules so that we can work with them.

Article originally written as part of Nuance & Fathom’s portfolio.

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