Case Study: UN Women ‘The Autocomplete Truth’

UN Women is a United Nations entity working for the empowerment of women. Many find it surprising that we are still fighting for gender equality in the 21st century. However this problem is still permanently on the agenda in many countries of the world. Needless to say, gender equality is a highly controversial topic; some men would argue that the movement for women’s rights is sexist against males…

In most parts of the world today, Google is an essential part of web surfing. Many have wondered what the ‘magic’ behind search suggestions is – who or what generates them? Well the truth is: we all are. It’s a reflection of our society. Just ‘Google’ the word ‘women’; you may be surprised at what you see…



The United Nations Organisation (UN) comprises a number of departments. There are some which are widely known, UNICEF for example. UN Women, however, is less known to the public, which doesn’t help the organisation with its task.

“The goal of UN Women has always been to become well-known as a department. They wanted to be as established and known as some of the other UN organizations, like UNICEF. They didn’t have a big budget, but they needed exposure and a bit help with getting social content. There were no concrete goals as such,” explains Ramzi Moutran, the Creative Director at Memac Ogilvy Dubai.


In some people’s minds, the topic of gender equality is associated with ‘crazy’ feminists running around the streets of San Francisco in the 1970s. However, it can be argued the problem is actually still here, even in developed countries. Perhaps stereotypes and sexist attitudes are stuck in our heads even if we don’t want to admit it?

Ramzi Moutran, the Creative Director at Memac Ogilvy says: “With a lot of topics we think that they are already done, we think of them as old ‘last century’ issues. Actually the same problems are still amongst us. Gender equality is not there yet. We just touched a tip of the iceberg.”

One way to understand better the prevalent attitudes in today’s society/ies is to ‘Google’ something and just look at the results… Just search for ‘women should’ – the results may shock you!

Ramzi Moutran from Memac Ogilvy Dubai doesn’t blame Google: “Google is just a very big part of everybody’s lives. Google isn’t responsible. It is the people that create these searches. I think our campaign became popular when people checked the results on Google themselves. The power of the idea is that you can check it yourself.”

autocomplete truth



Memac Ogilvy Dubai was briefed to raise awareness of UN Women. They started to research the gender equality topic. The agency’s copywriter in Dubai typed in some phrases into Google and found the results shocking. They assumed it was associated with the Middle East. As a check, Ogilvy offices in other countries were contacted and asked to do the same search. The results varied only slightly. Enough evidence: the campaign was born.


The agency decided to use Google’s built-in ‘Autocomplete’ function as the creative focus of the campaign. As Google explains: “The search queries that you see as part of Autocomplete are a reflection of the search activity of users and the content of web pages.” (

The Autocomplete suggestions reflect the terms people most commonly search for: i.e. Google Autocomplete is effectively just reflecting each country’s society/ attitudes/ search behaviours and the results are very revealing.

Several posters were designed. These powerful ads featured women (of different races); a Google search bar displaying negative suggestions covered their mouths. Emotionally captivating content at its best!

The strategy was to use these striking print images to start the ‘drum-beat’ inside the advertising community itself.

Ramzi Moutran, Creative Director at Memac Ogilvy Dubai on the strategy: “It started in the advertising trade primarily and kicked off in a particular blog. We don’t always intend for these channels to make it happen, but this case proves that it’s possible. With other campaigns which we want to make viral, we don’t go to trade magazines. This was more of a design-print campaign.”


The campaign had a slow start but started spreading quickly once it hit the big social channels. To handle a massive social conversation, a hashtag #womenshould was featured on the posters. It’s safe to say that the main success came thanks to the ‘engaging’ aspect: people could check Google for themselves to see the issue right there on their screen. “There was no geographical targeting, it was a totally global campaign. It kicked off in England, jumped to Australia and then to New York. After that we lost track. It was talked about in almost every country in the world,” says Ramzi Moutran.


The campaign received a lot of criticism. Some bloggers claimed the posters to be sexist towards men. The agency was accused of copying an old idea previously used in advertising. As for the ‘Autocomplete’ function itself – it was placed under the spotlight by this campaign. Google hasn’t commented on any of this.

Here’s what Ramzi Moutran, the Creative Director from Memac Ogilvy Dubai thinks: “There have been 50 copy-cat campaigns afterwards. One of our entry forms actually has a list of all the copycats. We were proud of the fact that it started a conversation. The comments that come afterwards matter. People started debating again.”


The campaign was certainly eye-opening and did create some serious awareness for UN Women. It became the most shared ad of 2013 on Adweek and Social Good Campaign of 2013 (Ad Council). The final result was 1.2bn impressions and 24m Twitter mentions. The agency also filled its shelves with numerous awards.



The campaign sparked a global conversation. The Twitter hashtag held it together and allowed people to find others talking about the same subject. The idea was simple and captivating. Once you saw the posters, you immediately wanted to check it yourself and even create versions of your own. The concept was inherently engaging and sharable. Ramzi Moutran shares his lessons: “You have to start from the base: we wanted awareness and people to talk about it. The ambitions for all the campaigns we do are about the real word not the advertising industry. Try to talk to people about topics they really care about. They will not talk about something that’s not interesting for them. We also had a hashtag to hold the campaign together. Everybody in the world who was talking about it could find all the others. It’s an afterthought very often, but we designed that in the early stages.”


monica jitariuc


“This case uses something that was in front of our eyes and makes it look astonishingly amazing in our same eyes. It takes the search engine- part of our everyday life and uses it as key element of the campaign. I think the power of this case lies in the amazingly simple solution. Moreover, it is very rare to see cases that make you say: “That was so obvious and I never saw it”. Therefore, all in all, simplicity and creativity- these make this case outstanding.

I think there are 5 lessons to learn if not more:

  1. Think simple. Do not over complicate things.
  2. Solutions are in front of your eyes most of the time. Do not ignore them.
  3. Speaking universal language means using universal tools.
  4. A powerful cause needs also powerful communication. Do not let the cause speak for itself. Help the cause by putting words in its mouth.
  5. Amaze people & generate controversy. It’s tough but it’s worth it.”





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