The Pink Bra: A local solution to a universal problem

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With Breast Cancer Awareness Month taking place all over the world throughout the month of October, we took some time to catch up with some of the innovators truly changing the game when it comes to preventing the disease. 

In the first of a two-part series, we asked the team at Tonic International - the Dubai-based agency that worked with Pink Ribbon Pakistan to create the PinkBra, a bra designed to help underprivileged women detect early signs of breast cancer.

They first featured in our INNOVATION CELEBRATION briefing back in June, and embody our (F)EMPOWERMENT trend - looking at how brands are empowering females and thinking beyond gender stereotypes, not just those they help. 

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The Pink Bra was inspired by the desire to find a local solution to a universal problem. Our own families have suffered from Breast Cancer, so we knew first-hand the problems of communication about the disease in Pakistan.

Here, every time you speak to an underprivileged woman about breast cancer, you will be met with silence.

The taboo on women speaking openly about their health is so strong that majority of lives lost can be attributed to the fear of speaking up.  Early diagnosis is the difference between saving a life and losing it. So we knew we had to enable women to find the symptoms themselves, without trying to break down cultural barriers but rather work around them. The task was to reach and educate women in the privacy of their own homes.

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An insight gave us the opening we so needed. It’s common to see underprivileged women tuck money inside their bra. This is because the traditional outfit ‘shalwar kameez’ does not come with pockets.

This gave us a chance to turn that action into a self-examining exercise.

We remodeled the bra that women from the lower socio-economic group wore. It looked like an ordinary bra, but it came with pockets. Inside the pockets were raised tactile outlines that guided a woman's hand and told her where exactly to press to self-examine. Easy-to-understand illustrations inside the cups of the bra educated women on each step of the self-test in detail.

It took into consideration that our target audience was mainly illiterate and could read only a few words and numbers. Our product offered a discrete telephone hotline where women who followed the instructions and suspected they had breast cancer could call to get free advice on how to tackle the disease. Often one-to-one personalized and practical advice matters much more than long brochures and documentaries.

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Finding a client with the guts to use a bra as a medium of communication wasn’t easy. Luckily, Pink Ribbon Pakistan came through with their young, bold team willing to embrace the crazy idea of using a bra as a behavior change tool.

We are hoping that others benefit from our learning.

It’s always important to open your eyes and ears to existing behaviors and local insights when trying to work with behavior change and awareness of complex or taboo subjects. Don’t try and break down barriers, instead work around them within the cultural context. This means taking more time to be inspired by what’s already there rather than unnecessarily imposing something new and alien.

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