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How 'The Vulva Spaceship' Navigated the Internet


Innocean Worldwide Europe’s senior creative strategist Odile Breffa and copywriter Rowan El-Goweiny reflect on the internet-breaking project a year after it launched, writes LBB’s Nisna Mahtani

How 'The Vulva Spaceship' Navigated the Internet

In the summer of 2021, an image of an unusually shaped spaceship was doing the rounds on social media. The online conversations surrounding the phallic-shaped rocket, launched by billionaire Jeff Bezos, was a hair-raising moment for the team at Innocean Worldwide Europe, who realised there was a creative opportunity brewing.

“The internet. What a place,” says Innocean’s copywriter Rowan El-Goweiny and senior creative strategist Odile Breffa. “Some will argue that it’s toxic, mean, and ruthless. Others will tell you that it’s an enabler, a democratiser, a place where everyone has the power to be heard (maybe the ones who have a great number of followers have more privilege) but for the sake of this point we’ll carry on.”

They continue, “And we’re here to tell you that it’s both. It’s an interesting place to navigate, but with the right moves, you can use it for your own benefit. And with the wrong attitude, it can also turn into a place where nightmares take place. In some worst-case scenarios, it has ended some careers.”

That’s all to say that while social media certainly divided opinions and created some interesting memes surrounding the situation, there was one aspect that was not explored - why did the rockets only represent male genitalia? And that’s when Innocean came into play. 

Speaking with LBB’s Nisna Mahtani, Rowan and Odile explain the conversation which created a mockumentary to shine a light on the inequality on earth, and in the sky, as well as what the team learnt from the project.

The Internet Is an Idea Enabler

“This is how ’The Vulva Spaceship’ was born,” says the team. “A billionaire space race, endless phallic-looking spaceships, talks about tourism to Mars, and zero mention of women in this equation. To shed light on the fact that women are still very unequal to men on planet Earth, we decided to ‘speak internet’ and launched the vulva mockumentary. The catch? The audience didn’t know it was a mockumentary.”

Odile and Rowan continue, “While the majority of men were too busy mocking us, we were the ones laughing behind the scenes. We got exactly what we wanted. We wanted to be proven right, biased opinions surfaced and discrimination against women was further highlighted.”

The Internet Speaks One Global Language

“Memes. Reddit. Reactions. The more absurd the content is, the more reactions one is likely to get,” Odile and Rowan explain, “We placed a bait, and they bit right through it. User-generated content was flowing, and with zero budget, we spoke their language and followed through with memes and tweets.”  

Their hunch was right. As people weighed in on the conversation, meme culture ate it up and provided an assortment of funny content that further engaged the audience and made them join in.

The Internet Is Magic

“From a design-expert article, to a Cindy Gallop shoutout, all the way to the most-watched show in the US, this was all the internet’s doing. The devil works hard, but the internet works much harder.”

All the while, the team behind the mockumentary channelled the wise words of Alex Morris:  

“A stunt creates a spectacle. Place it somewhere public and unexpected. The less sense it makes the better. Seriously, confusion and uncertainty are some of the strongest drivers of media.”  

As the Innocean team saw the responses, they weighed in on why it caused a commotion. “Anyone and everyone can say something. Leave unsolicited opinions. Share. Like. Unlike. Recreate. Twist. And all of the above. If you keep that in mind, things will start getting less personal.”

The Internet Is Unpredictable, with a Short Attention Span 

“Two days into the campaign, the War on Ukraine had begun,” Odelie and Rowan reflected. “As you can imagine,  there were far more important things in the world than a Vulva spaceship. When we thought it was the end of five months in the making, the internet said otherwise.”

Surprising as it is, the traction for the campaign continued. However, Innocean was keen to remind itself that online trends are but temporary. Odile and Rowan say, “You might be headlining news today, but tomorrow someone else will. The internet forgets. And it forgets really fast. When thinking of ideas, make sure you don’t rely on people’s memory. It’s best to go in knowing that you won’t be relevant for long, so say your message as fast as possible.
“And if, in the likelihood of more dramatic news making its way, know that sometimes, and we say this with a very heavy heart, social media collectively mourns for a day or two before jumping on the next thing.”

The Internet Has the Power to Make You. And Also Break You.

Having become the driving force of culture, the internet is a precarious place to be for individuals and brands alike. Odile and Rowan mention Kim Kardashian’s Grace Jones moment as well as the ‘Free Britney’ movement and even Balenciaga’s teddy bear campaign, which fed into the brand being ‘cancelled’ in the eyes of many.

The Innocean team is mindful to say, “Don’t underestimate the people because they will come after you. Anyone with a screen and a keyboard will be able to reach you.” Further explaining that understanding the internet and its importance will help make platforms and content work for you rather than against you.
Sharing their sentiment Odile and Rowan say, “You’re probably feeling nostalgic over the days when life was simpler. When paper was the medium and word of mouth was the conductor. Phonebooks were a thing, we also had local media, and if you go further back in time, it didn’t even cover the entire country, maybe just the city you lived in. In those times, only a selected few had the privilege of voicing their opinion: the media outlets, politicians, newspapers, and TV.” 

But there’s a vital takeaway from those days, “We were not part of the conversation. And we had no influence either.”

The team ended by leaving us with an inspirational thought, “Gathering all formats into a single unique space, the internet has allowed us to spread a message in micro-seconds but also made us part of something bigger. So, if an internet-born idea, designed for the internet and driven by the internet can make it with zero media budget behind it, so can you.” 

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INNOCEAN Berlin, Wed, 29 Mar 2023 16:45:00 GMT