The special power of craft is to move audiences emotionally, to take them out of their comfort zone, to feel things deeply that they might rarely feel. Sadness, happiness, fear, anger, surprise and disgust are the six basic emotions, but disgust is felt most viscerally.


Taboos are those embarrassing, offensive or awkward topics which are  often avoided in “polite” company on the basis of deep-rooted and complex social and cultural norms.  Even in the 21st century, it’s incredible to think that facts of life: periods, body hair, polygamy, cross-dressing, adultery and homosexuality are still so steeped in stigma. 

If we were to rope in a psychologist’s opinion here, they would no doubt talk of the uniquely damaging feelings of secrecy, shame and guilt  experienced by those who are “outed” as associated with a particular circumstance or event that is deemed  as taboo. 

In short, taboos need breaking. Stigmas need smashing.  These topics need normalising.  And art, in all its forms, has always borne the torch for its radical disavowal of social norms. From Leonardo da Vinci to Freida Kahlo, some of the most revered artists have shocked, surprised and successfully opened up some deep and necessary conversations. 

Ciclope award-winners are no exception. Winning work has been mischievous and deeply moving in its treatment of “off limits” topics.

Take “Body Language”  by Somesuch for Vogue, a three and a half minute love letter to the female body (and all its curves and contours).  Or “You Love Me” by PRETTYBIRD and Translation for Beats By Dre, which masterfully tackles the cultural appropriation of white people who cherry pick the “best bits”  from black culture.

There’s even one which even comes with an ironic trigger warning: “Seeing Red” by PRETTYBIRD and adam&eveDDB for Hey Girls, which pulls no punches on period poverty. And finally, how can we forget “Radical Honesty”, the impeccable and absurd low-budget short-film (directed by Bianca Poletti and produced by Epoch Films and Disco Pants) that finds the two characters, Jack and Rachel bond over their shared disdain for conventional relationship structures – until it all unravels. 

Does taboo-tackling equal creative bravery? 

There is no doubt that dismantling age-old taboos comes with a degree of risk (and courage). Without mentioning any names we have seen a few brands fall from grace when they’ve misfired on sensitive cultural topics; when the execution has been less than perfect, when the audience hasn’t been properly considered and when it’s felt inauthentic. 

It’s a delicate alchemy of courage, conviction, confidence and authenticity that makes this kind of work resonate, and make its way into popular culture. 

One of our speakers this year, Tanja Grubner, has been at the forefront of the taboo revolution. As Global Innovation, Brand & Communications Director at Essity, a leading global health and hygiene company  – generating 11.6bn €, 150+ countries, her primary role is to sell sanitary products. But what Essity has done is so much more than that. In a category stuffed full of cliched images (let’s not forget women joyously shimmying around in pink silk dresses whilst menstruating), Essity’s newest CMO has flipped the narrative on its head, instead looking at the depths of joy,  pain and pleasure women experience throughout life. Iconic work including Viva La Vulva, #Painstories, #Wombstories and #Bloodnormal have lifted the lid on women’s health issues: from endometriosis, to adenomyosis, to painful sex, to vaginismus, to insomnia to miscarriage. 

We dare you to (re)watch #Wombstories and not well-up. 

But does tackling a taboo pay off in profits? 

It would seem so. Essity grew its net sales by 31% to approximately SEK 38bn (£3.1bn) during the second quarter of 2022, despite implementing “significant” price increases. 

CEO and president Magnus Groth explains that price elasticity in Essity’s categories is “low”, while its brands are “strong”. Groth also credited long-term investments in marketing, innovation and digitalisation with driving market share growth for approximately 50% of branded sales in the retail trade over the 12 months preceding that period. 

#Wombstories alone is credited with driving a market share increase of 8.1% in the UK and 9.9% in Denmark shortly after it launched. 

But it feels like the cultural conversations it’s opened up are even more important.