The Deconstructed Brief



Brand: headspace National Youth Mental Health Foundation

Agency: Leo Burnett Melbourne

Bullying — specifically, cyberbullying.

Bullying doesn’t look like it used to. Nearly every tween and teen has a smartphone that connects him or her to the rest of the world from the comfort of anywhere. This means that hurtful words can travel anywhere at the click of a button or the tap of a screen.

Leo Burnett’s Melbourne, Australia, office partnered with the nonprofit, headspace National Youth Mental Health Foundation, to reduce the cyberbullying of 463,000 young people each year — 78 percent of which occurs in children between the ages of 10 and 15.

Previous efforts focused on encouraging victims to speak up, yet the damage had already been done to the victims. How could headspace combat this new generation of bullying and stop it before it started?


  • Teenagers don’t think before they post. They aren’t fully mature and tend to act first, think later. So what if the agency-client partnership could do the thinking for them?
  • Teenagers don’t like being told what to do. Rather than telling teenagers what cyberbullying looks like, how do we empower them to teach themselves and teach each other?

One Thought:

Stop cyberbullying before it’s posted.


The resulting campaign was called “Reword.” The centerpiece was a free Google Chrome extension that mirrored traditional spell-checks. When words or phrases identified as bullying were typed, the extension would put a red line through the word or phrases and let the user know that he or she is about to engage in cyberbullying — encouraging him or her to think twice.

The campaign was seeded through the public education system, ensuring widespread and rapid adoption. It was participatory in that it invited students to make the system smarter — the extension would learn over time how to interpret sentiment and slang. For example, “you are a f#&*ing loser” was flagged as bad, whereas “you are a f#&*ing legend” was permissible.


The campaign results?

  • 150 million earned media impressions
  • 84% of flagged insults reworded
  • Reduced incidence of online cyberbullying by 570%, compared to the campaign goal of 10%

Lessons to be learned:

  • Don’t talk about ending bullying; do it. — Advertising is about changing behavior. Think about how the creative can actually change — not merely influence — behavior.
  • Traditional media channels don’t always cut it. — Oftentimes, the media channels are set in stone before any creative problem-solving can occur. If the creative team were handed television public service announcements and donated billboards, they may have never arrived at the creative solution of a Google Chrome extension. The takeaway is to allow for freedom and flexibility in the channels.
  • Identify the influencers. — The goal was to reduce cyberbullying in teenagers, yet the public school system was a significant influencer, a gatekeeper and access point to reach a large number of the target audience. Take a second, take a step back, and see what other influencers may aid in getting your message across in an impactful manner.
  • Tell me, I forget. Show me, I remember. Involve me, I understand. — Again, we sound like a broken record, but this campaign both showed and involved. Its participatory nature (allowing students to submit their own insults to make the artificial intelligence stronger) added a layer of realness and authenticity to the campaign. It uncovered what cyberbullying often looks like, with a rawness that might not have been discovered otherwise.