Mean Stinks: People’s Insights Volume 2 Issue 5

What is Mean Stinks?

Mean Stinks is a purpose inspired movement launched by P&G’s Secret deodorant to combat girl-to-girl bullying in schools. The movement reaches girls through social media and challenges them to take action online and in real life.

Blogger Adina notes:

“The goal is to empower all women, no matter if they are a victim of bullying or not, by providing tools and resources to aid in the fight against the mean behavior of bullying.”

Secret launched the movement in 2011 and has sustained activity and buzz through a series of campaigns, celebrity endorsements and philanthropic initiatives. A new website and packaging re-design mark Secret’s commitment to the movement and to fulfill P&G’s own purpose of making everyday just a little better for consumers.

Today, Mean Stinks has a community of 475,000 supporters on Facebook.

A social heartbeat

Secret unites girls around an issue they face on a daily basis. In a release, Secret highlighted:

“The latest U.S. Department of Justice report shows 30% of female students grades 6 – 12 were bullied at school or cyberbullied during the 2009 – 2010 school year.”

Blogger Nicole Gordon Levine commented on the potential value of the Mean Stinks platform:

“Mean certainly does stink. I was bullied in High School and wish I had an outlet like Secret’s Mean Stinks Campaign.”

These factors undoubtedly contributed to the movement’s virality. As AdAge’s Bob Garfield noted:

“Within a few weeks, 75,000 kids sent apologies to peers or posted friendly graffiti. The page drew 203,000 new fans in one day… These are not 203,000 who saw an ad. These are 203,000 who, of their own volition, expressed solidarity with Secret’s efforts.”

Secret’s brand purpose to make a difference

Year 1: Inspiring girls to be nice

Mean Stinks launched in January 2011 with a Mean Stinks Facebook page and a Good Graffiti app.

Blogger Josh Eaton described the platform’s offerings:

“Secret’s Mean Stinks Campaign provides tools for girls to stand up against bullying and have a voice. It allows them to talk to specialists, make videos confronting bullies or giving apologies, give encouragement to build up other girls (Be nice behind someone’s back), self reflect on your own actions, and deal with the many problems that come from being a teenager and going to school. They can interact with each other, be anonymous, and join the movement of overcoming bullying.”

P&G-Secret “Mean Stinks” Campaign

The Good Graffiti app encouraged girls to send positive messages to friends – a total of 32,000 positive messages have been sent.

In addition, Mean Stinks created a Facebook store to sell T-shirts with anti-bullying messages to spread the word, and partnered with expert Rachel Simmons to support victims of bullying.

Media Post’s Tanya Irwin reported:

“Simmons, an author and expert on the social issues facing young women, has helped Secret in creating content for the dedicated “Mean Stinks” Facebook page that empowers young women by providing tools for them to face the difficulties and drama of bullying.”

Year 2: Building a movement

In 2012, Secret introduced elements to encourage more social shares and conversations in real life.

Online, Secret encourages girls to participate in weekly challenges – such as ‘write good graffiti on your school parking lot,’ ‘create a no joke zone,’ and ‘write “mean stops here” on your hand’ – and share it on the Mean Stinks Facebook page or on Twitter and Instagram with #meanstinks. One challenge invites girls to make music videos featuring a cover of an anti-bullying song or to write their own. Secret has also conducted a challenge on video crowdsourcing platform Tongal, with incentives of $40,000 to encourage high quality videos. These are featured on Secret’s YouTube channel.

Girls can also visit a Facebook app to learn about the different kinds of bullying and take a quiz to find out how they can help end girl-to-girl bullying.

In 2012, Secret roped in singer-songwriter Demi Lovato as the brand ambassador for the Mean Stinks movement and challenged girls to gang up for good with Demi and take the ‘blue pinky’ challenge.

Adweek noted:

“For the 2012 school year, Secret evolved the focus of “Mean Stinks,” advocating for girls to “Gang Up for Good” and work together to put an end to bullying. Former teen star and current X Factor judge Demi Lovato, herself a victim of bullying, was signed as the celebrity spokes­person. Girls are being urged on social media to paint their pinky nails blue as a sign of solidarity to the cause—what they’re calling the “pinky swear.”

Examiner’s Evelyn Blockwrote that the #bluepinky is designed to drive offline conversations:

“One of the ideas of the campaign is for young women to make a “pinky-swear” pledge to not bully their peers, and as a reminder of that promise, to wear blue nail polish on their pinky fingers in the hope that other girls will become curious about the unusual nail polish design and once they hear about the pledge, will also decide to take part in the campaign.”

These challenges have resulted in a collection of photos and videos shared on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, and also a loyal following. As Digital Training Academy team noted in a blog post:

“The long term ‘always-on’ approach meant fans kept coming back for more. The company chose a subject that resonates with its consumers, created a catchy slogan, and filled its Facebook page with ways for fans to really engage with the content and to share their experiences with others. The Mean Stinks page hit a chord among users, enough for them to keep coming back to view or share more content on a regular basis.”

Case Study: Gang up for Good

Symbolism of the #bluepinky

Movements typically use symbols to unite supporters and show solidarity. Writer-designer Steven Heller noted:

“It may be true that every idea – especially good ones – can benefit from a mnemonic. A unifying element, sign, symbol or code adds allure and provides a rallying point. What’s more, we all love wearing labels of some kind to show our allegiance to some thing.”

Blogger Charlotte points out that spotting blue pinky offers a sense of hope and support to victims of bullying:

“I know there were a few nice kids in the class that were prob­a­bly afraid to say any­thing. I didn’t blame them for not stick­ing up for me and likely would’ve done the same thing myself at the time. How I would’ve loved a “mean stinks” cam­paign back then, to see blue pinkies unit­ing and stick­ing up for me!”

Year 3: Evolution to a hub

In late 2012, Secret launched the Mean Stinks website to curate social conversations taking place around #meanstinks, #gangupforgood and #bluepinky, challenges, tips and tools and peer-to-peer advice. As the release states:

“Unique to the site is the archived #NiceAdvice section, where girls across the country can share their experiences, offer words of encouragement and provide examples of how they’ve successfully “Ganged Up For Good.” They can also search for advice from girls just like them. Weekly ‘What Would You Do’ scenarios give girls the floor to share their perspective and success stories on how they would, or have, handled situations that could lead to mean behavior.”


Commitment to a larger solution

In addition to creating a support community for girls, Secret also encourages girls to trigger donations to anti-bullying and girl empower programs. In 2011, girls could request coupons online or download iAd wallpapers to trigger $1 donations to Pacer’s National Bullying Prevention Center. In 2012, girls could purchase special Mean Stinks Clinical Strength products to trigger a $1 donation to Girls on the Run.

Mommy blogger Serena wrote:

“They also launched a special Mean Stinks Clinical Strength product where they will be donating $1* from the purchase of each Mean Stinks Clinical Strength sold to Girls on the Run® to fund their girl empowerment programming and help prevent mean behavior before it starts.”

Secret is also experimenting with a Gang Up For Good Kit with lesson and assembly plans to introduce the movement in schools and communities.


Purpose inspired marketing

At MSLGROUP, we believe that brands need a shared purpose to inspire people and drive good growth, and that companies should become PurPle (Purpose + People). According to AdAge, Secret sales rose “9% for the 26 weeks ended June 26, a period affected by the “Mean Stinks” campaign that launched in January on Facebook.”

As Jim Stengel, former Global Marketing Officer at P&G said:

“Great brands are built on improving the lives of the people they serve; maximum profit and high ideals aren’t incompatible but, in fact, inseparable.”

* MSLGROUP’s People’s Lab crowdsourcing platform and approach helps organizations tap into people’s insights for innovation, storytelling and change. The People’s Lab crowdsourcing platform also enables our distinctive insights and foresight approach, which consists of four elements: organic conversation analysis, MSLGROUP’s own insight communities, client-specific insights communities, and ethnographic deep dives into these communities.

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As an example, 100+ thinkers and planners within MSLGROUP share and discuss inspiring projects on corporate citizenship, crowdsourcing, storytelling and social data on the MSLGROUP Insights Network. Every week, we pick up one project and do a deep dive into conversations around it — on the MSLGROUP Insights Network itself but also on the broader social web — to distill insights and foresights. We share these insights and foresights with you on our People’s Insights blog and compile the best insights from the network and the blog in the People’s Lab Quarterly Magazine, as a showcase of our capabilities. We have synthesized the insights from 2012 to provide foresights for business leaders and changemakers — in the ten-part People’s Insights Annual Report titled Now & Next: Ten Frontiers for the Future of Engagement.

As you can imagine, we can bring the same innovative approach to help you distill insights and foresights from conversations and communities. To start a conversation on how we can help you win with insights and foresights, write to Pascal Beucler at