Flare Audio designed Calmer as an in-ear device that reduces stressful frequencies. In an always-on world which constantly bombards us with noises and distractions, its appeal seemed universal – but the team hadn’t drilled much further down into specific audiences.
“It soon became apparent that we received an awful lot of positive feedback from people who were hypersensitive to sound, particularly autistic people,” explains Naomi Roberts, Flare Audio’s Co-Founder and COO.
As well as praise for the product, Roberts and her team received constructive feedback on the copy they’d used. For instance, most people in that community prefer to be called ‘an autistic person’ rather than ‘a person with autism’, as the former presents it as an integral part of their identity, rather than just a condition they live with.
“After changing the language, we were inundated with comments thanking us for listening,” Roberts continues. “That was really the start of our journey. People were very keen to share their stories of how sound sensitivities affected them, many of which were very moving.”
After discussing these findings with Flare Audio’s account manager at Meta, it became clear that through animation, there was a golden opportunity to use these insights to show what Calmer can do in a simple, visual way.
DRAWING ON LIVED EXPERIENCES
The campaign was a perfect fit for Illustration for Inclusion, an initiative set up by Meta Creative Shop strategist Lucas Levitan and his colleague Becky Owen to inspire brands and agencies to create more diverse and inclusive work by harnessing the power of illustration.
The value comes not just from diversity in content – but in creation. “We all agreed that in order to get the best possible result we should engage with an autistic illustrator who had sound sensitivities themselves,” says Roberts.
They found the perfect candidate in cartoonist and graphic novelist Ashanti Fortson. “Her illustrations are thoughtful and intuitive, and she provided plenty of thoughts on how to show what Calmer does to noise,” she adds. “Had we not done this, the campaign would never have had the same authenticity.”
Early in the process, the concept revolved around one specific source of noise: traffic. “Ashanti told us that was too narrow,” recalls Levitan. “She mentioned dogs barking. Kids crying. People working on the street. People talking at the same time. This list went on and on. So, we thought, instead of dramatising one thing, let’s show it all at the same time.”
We all agreed that in order to get the best possible result we should engage with an autistic illustrator who had sound sensitivities themselves
EXPRESSING SOUND VISUALLY
Coming from a linear storytelling background, Fortson drafted a storyboard for a 15–20-second ad, featuring a central character bombarded by stressful noises as she sits on a bench. “We realised we could do even more by using the language of the platform, introducing a slider to show how the character interacts with the product,” explains Levitan.
The team worked with a sound designer to capture the cacophony of sounds, before segueing smoothly into more relaxing tones once the Calmer ear buds are introduced. But given that many people have their volume muted while browsing their feed, the message also needed to cut through effectively without the benefit of sound to tell the story.
“We asked Ashanti to translate the challenge she faces into colours,” continues Levitan. “She brought a moodboard with a lot of contrasting colours. Quite dramatic, making it clear that something was wrong. It was a beautiful way to translate how she hears and feels about these sounds in a visual way.”
PROMOTING DIVERSITY OF THOUGHT
For Roberts, the experience of working with Fortson was the highlight of the campaign. “When we met her, I knew she was the perfect person to illustrate what Calmer does,” she smiles. “I’ll always remember her saying that she thought Calmer was ‘magical’. I loved that, and she really captured it in her illustrations.”
During a workshopping session, Fortson also made a revealing comment: with Calmer, she said, “the sound doesn’t look so ugly.” It was a powerful sentiment that helped inspire the final campaign tagline: ‘Make Noise Beautiful’.
Valuable insights like these make a clear case for the value of diverse perspectives at every stage of the creative process. “The world is more related to the way people think than what they look like,” Levitan points out. “Diversity today is not about trying to physically represent everyone, but to represent how they think and feel.”
We asked Ashanti to translate the challenge she faces into colours. She brought a moodboard with a lot of contrasting colours
RETHINKING THE CREATIVE PROCESS
Levitan believes that the ad industry may need to rethink some of its working practices to properly embrace the benefits of diverse thinking. “It’s about being open to a different look and feel that you expected, or a different way of saying things,” he explains. “There may be more back and forth, or it may be more conversational.”
Faced with tight budgets and unforgiving timescales, he admits this can be a challenge. “We need to manage the pace and speed at which we do things,” suggests Levitan. “Everything needs to be done right away. Your email pings at 12 o’clock and you need to deliver the next morning. Our collaboration with Ashanti required a different approach, so we found a solution that worked for all involved.”
“By taking an inclusive approach to both ideation and production, we produced stronger product insights, created more authentic and representative craft, and drove business impact for Flare Audio,” adds Ciara Harrison, Senior Creative Strategist at Meta, who worked closely with Levitan on the campaign. “This will hopefully inspire other businesses to follow suit.”
For Roberts, the biggest learning has been the value of asking direct questions. “Sometimes fear of offending or doing something wrong prevents us from learning and understanding,” she points out. “But it’s only through honest and open conversations with neurodiverse people that we can create meaningful and inclusive campaigns.”
Great Work is part of Inspire, a partnership between Creative Review and Meta to showcase outstanding creative work across Facebook and Instagram.
Facebook and Instagram’s Creative Hub was launched to help the creative communities understand mobile marketing. The online tool allows creatives to experiment with content formats and produce mock-ups to share with clients and stakeholders. It also showcases successful campaigns created for mobile. Try out the mock-up tool at facebook.com/ads/creativehub and see the inspiration gallery at facebook.com/ads/creativehub/gallery