Movember, the annual challenge for men to grow a moustache during November, and while doing so raise money for men’s health charities, is a global phenomenon, taking place in 20 countries. Yet it started as something of a gag.
The idea was sparked when two of the founders, Travis Garone and Luke Slattery, found themselves chatting about the changing nature of fashion over a beer in a pub in Melbourne, in particular the demise of facial hair for men. This was 2003, when, unlike now, shaved faces were very much de rigueur in Australia.
“They were joking and talking about how the moustache had completely disappeared off the face of Australian men,” explains Juliette Smith, CMO at Movember. “Both of their fathers had had moustaches and they were remembering back to a time when all great cricketers had moustaches, and saying ‘isn’t it funny that literally there is no facial hair on men now’.”
The duo decided it would be funny to dare each other, and a bunch of their mates (30 in total took part in the first Movember) to grow a moustache, and as Garone had a birthday at the end of November, the best mo would be judged at a party then. And thus, Movember began.
Photos from the first ever Movember party, in 2003
“It wasn’t born from noble intentions,” says Smith, “and they don’t ever claim it was, it was always by mistake that they formed the global movement that it is today.”
It also didn’t start out with any particular charitable intentions. “It didn’t start with men’s health,” continues Smith. “That was something that came the second year when they realised there was something in that idea and people kept saying, ‘we should do it again’. They were noticing what women were doing for breast cancer at the time in Australia and they felt that there was something they could do for men’s health.”
They decided to partner with the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia, though even this process wasn’t as straightforward as might be expected, considering the fame Movember has gone on to attain. “Many charities that they approached weren’t interested in partnering with Movember because they thought it was a bit gimmicky and a bit silly,” says Smith. “The Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia also wasn’t actually particularly keen, but said ‘you can use our logo and if you make any money at the end of it then we’re happy to receive it’.”
Campaign poster for Movember from 2007
TAKING THE ‘TACHE TO THE WORLD
For its first three years, Movember was a fairly homespun operation, run out of the founders’ bedrooms. The event’s popularity was steadily growing but at this stage was pretty much still all word of mouth. “There was no social media,” Smith points out. “They had one poster that they created. One of the founders [Garone] is a creative, he has a creative agency [Urchin Associates], so he was always very good at that side of things. So he created one poster, they wrote an email to all their friends with the subject line, ‘are you man enough to be my man?’ and that was their marketing effort for the first two years.”
But in 2006, interest had spread wide enough for Movember to travel overseas, first to New Zealand and then to the US and UK. It now takes place in 20 countries worldwide. But this growth has not been without its challenges. “They were pretty naïve and they’re happy to admit this, about what it takes to set up a charity in 20 different countries,” says Smith. “Because the laws are different in each market – there was a massive learning curve as they tried to move into all these different countries about how they set themselves up appropriately.”
The Movember Foundation, a charity addressing men’s health issues from cancer to mental health and suicide, was founded in 2006, but Movember continues to also partner with other men’s health charities across the world.
Poster from 2009
Smith acknowledges that the cheeky, social aspect of Movember has helped bring the serious issues that it supports to men’s attention in a way that is perhaps more palatable than a more earnest approach would have been.
“It was a bit of a Trojan Horse,” she says. “It got men involved in their health without them really knowing it. They focused heavily on the fun element. And it was very funny – I think what’s really easy to forget now is at the point in time when this started up, men really didn’t have any facial hair. Lots of the businesses that we were reaching out to, or were reaching out to us, they weren’t allowed to grow facial hair in the workplace. There was something funny about being a man of a certain age, around 30, walking down the street with a moustache on.
“That sense of humour was quite new I think too,” she continues. “I know there’s fantastic charities like Comic Relief and others that really do have a great sense of fun but at the time, certainly in Australia, it was one of the only charities really playing in that funny space. We used to be very careful, we didn’t talk in depth about the cause or why we were doing it. It was all the fun side of things – that was a value offering back to the community: ‘you take part in this and we’ll give you a great experience, and you’ll have fun doing it, and in return you’ll help us achieve our charitable objectives by donating back to us’.”
Campaign from 2010
AVOIDING ‘MO FATIGUE’
Charities always face challenges in keeping people’s interest, but Movember faced an especially unusual problem when facial hair came back into fashion with a vengeance. “That’s actually not great for us,” says Smith. “Because back in the day you were a walking, talking billboard for men’s health – if you had a moustache on people would walk past and say ‘Movember’, whereas now you don’t know if it’s a Movember moustache or if someone just enjoys facial hair. So there are definitely new challenges.”
In response, the Foundation has broadened its approach, and also tweaked the message slightly into one that is about taking part for others, rather than just for yourself. “The marketing efforts today have to be much more strategic than they were in the early days because there is ‘mo fatigue’, people do get tired of an idea,” she continues. “It has been around for a long time, and there are people that don’t see us quite in the same way as we once were.
“But with that, we’ve got new product innovations – you can now take part in Movember by doing ‘Move’, which is taking the first four letters of Movember. So you can do a physical activity for us, you can host an event for us. We’ve tried to diversify a little bit, without selling our soul, without moving too far away from the moustache, because that is our badge and that’s what we always want to stay true to. We don’t want to dilute that too far.”
2015 campaign, focusing on ‘Move’
Smith is also conscious that people may only want to grow a moustache for Movember once, and that part of the Foundation’s challenge is to help people understand that it is a charity they can connect with all year round, even if the main event still happens in November.
“For me it’s a bit like running a marathon – there are a lot of people who come to us once and then move on, and that’s absolutely fine,” she says. “We’ll keep trying to engage new men, new people who haven’t engaged with the charity before, and you can go on and have a different relationship with us – you can be a donor, you can support us in a different way. I think we would be unrealistic to ask people to grow moustaches year on year, the same people anyway.”
THE ROLE OF CREATIVITY IN MOVEMBER’S STORY
Over the past decade or so, we’ve seen charity stunts such as the Ice Bucket Challenge arrive and receive a great amount of attention but then seemingly disappear without trace. It is easy to imagine that Movember could have been one of these moments, or that it might even have never left Australia.
The combination of a neat, funny concept and a catchy name have certainly helped to embed Movember in the world’s consciousness, plus the fact that it began to grow at the same time as social media began to be used in earnest will certainly have contributed to its success.
Yet Smith also feels that the brand savvy approach of its founders from its early days has been an important element in Movember’s longevity too.
Campaign poster from 2012
“In the early years we said no to lots of things, we were very protective of the brand,” she says. “We had big partners come to us and say ‘can we partner with you, can we give you x amount of money’ and we said no to lots of things that we didn’t feel were quite right. We didn’t feel that we need partners, we wanted to sustain ourselves without them, we wanted to do things our own way.
“The guys really did understand brands, and how to protect it, from the very early days. The rules that we had about what we could do with the brand were so strict and so clear, and we had such a strong sense of who we were. We knew instantly if something was off-brand or on-brand and whether we should be doing it. As you get bigger that does get more challenging but in the early years they had a really strong sense of who we were, what we wanted to be and who we wanted to partner with.”
Recent Facebook campaign images from Movember
Movember might have arrived in the charitable sector almost by accident, but this has undoubtedly had its benefits, most importantly in allowing the Foundation to have a point of difference that set it apart from the very beginning, and continues to do so, even if its message has evolved over the years.
“They were building almost a lifestyle brand in those early days, there were no sob stories or very sad stories in that creative, it was all about feeling and looking good,” says Smith. “If you look at the creative, it almost looks like a fashion shoot in many ways and I think there was an appeal in that. It felt a bit different, a bit fresh, a bit edgy, and that stood it apart from what other charities were doing.”
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