Shawn Lim
Oct 16, 2023

Using AI to combat 'smile shame': Inside Colgate's drive to improve mental health in APAC

Smile shame, stemming from external comments and personal self-doubt, can lead to low self-esteem, social anxiety, and strained relationships. Campaign speaks to Colgate to find out how the brand is turning all frowns upside down.

Using AI to combat 'smile shame': Inside Colgate's drive to improve mental health in APAC

Is it possible for generative artificial intelligence (AI) to help people in the Asia-Pacific be less conscious of their smiles? Well, Colgate-Palmolive believes it is.

In a recent campaign launched by the brand to coincide with World Smile Day and World Mental Health Day, the #FreeYourSmile initiative addressed 'smile shame' by tapping on a database of 15,000 public images of smiles to recreate them into Colgate's logo.  

The brand then created a Smile Generator AI tool on its website to encourage everyone to make their own personalised Colgate smile on TikTok and Instagram, and spread the message to celebrate all smiles. 

The campaign, created by Colgate's agency WPP@CP, an integrated global WPP team dedicated to serving the brand worldwide, is based on a study conducted by Colgate which found that 94% of respondents across APAC would like the ability to smile more freely.

Additionally, 98% of people in the Philippines, Taiwan and Thailand also indicated their desire to smile without reservations.

Yves Briantais, executive vice president of marketing for APAC at Colgate-Palmolive, tells Campaign they wanted to be genuinely authentic, engaging and involve people directly instead of delivering just another brand message. 

As the brand's goal is to spark discussions on social media, it also collaborated with local influencers in the region, like Suzie Wadee in Thailand, Ethan Kuan from Taiwan, and Xixi Lim from Singapore, to share their personal stories about 'smile shame'. 

"This is why we introduced an AI tool. We hope people will use it to capture their smiles, share their narratives, take pride in their smiles, and initiate broader conversations on social media," explains Briantais. 

"We bravely decided to modify our logo, a bold move for a company like ours. Typically, we are hesitant about altering our logo, but it was the most effective way to inspire courage in others. Upon examining, we noticed its perfect linearity. To promote unique and authentic smiles, we needed to adapt our logo to celebrate the diversity of smiles worldwide." 

Inside the tech

The brand used an image recognition tool and avoided copyright issues by tapping into Creative Commons' database. The agency identified and integrated six front teeth into Colgate's logo, ensuring it did not look like a caricature and remained discernible. 

As Colgate is using the tool for the first time, it has not undergone extensive field testing yet, making it somewhat experimental. Over 1,100 smiles have been produced by users using this tool so far. 

According to Lyndon Morant, senior director of impactful brand experiences for APAC at Colgate-Palmolive, the brand is now considering establishing a private database, similar to what Coca-Cola has done, as Colgate now possesses proprietary technology.  

"Imagine logging into a website using your smile as an identifier, similar to a fingerprint. We have developed technology that recognises a person's unique smile," Morant tells Campaign.

"For our current project, we sourced photos from Creative Commons and they had to be of a specific quality to display the teeth."

(From top to bottom) Yves Briantais and Lyndon Morant

However, this is not the first time the brand is experiementing with generative AI. They are also trialing a generative AI chatbot which merges digital shelf data management with content generation, backed by a dedicated team for the private beta phase.

The consumer goods firm is deepening its collaboration with Publicis' Profitero, taking an early role in the development of the Ask Profitero assistant. This tool gathers information on prices, stock availability, product descriptions, both paid and organic search rankings, feedback, ratings, and competitor analysis from international retailers.

Staff can interact with the bot by posing natural language questions, such as inquiring about sales figures for a specific type of toothpaste across various brands. Furthermore, the tool can provide detailed stock data, pinpointing instances when items were unavailable and the duration of these shortages within a given month.

Not just a marketing stunt

Colgate is determined for the AI-generated campaign not to be a one-off effort and wants it to be the start of a multi-year effort.  

The brand is researching various cultures to understand what prevents individuals from smiling. For example, societal norms in some regions discourage women from smiling, while concerns about not meeting beauty standards play a role in others.  

One concerning trend identified is that parents often unknowingly instil smile-related insecurities in their children. 

Colgate is developing the campaign's next phase for a June launch and promises the brand will continuously use the generative AI tool to release diverse content. 

"If we stop now, it is a failure. We didn't just launch another campaign; we aim to start a movement. Our ultimate goal is to change how people perceive their smiles," says Briantais. 

"While I don't want to directly compare it to Dove's 'Real Beauty' campaign, it's a similar journey we wish to embark on. We measured engagement, PR coverage, the number of smiles generated, and the positive feedback received for this campaign. Everything turned out great. However, our genuine purpose is what drives us. " 

Briantais continues: "Our true success will be when a woman in India feels free to smile without hesitation and when people in Australia no longer second-guess how their smile looks in photos before grinning. That's our primary objective." 

Morant adds that parents play a significant role in 'smile shaming', so Colgate focuses on campaigns to emphasise the importance of smiling across various cultures.  

He shares a story about a young girl with a gap tooth due to a playground accident. Many parents might immediately consider getting orthodontic care or advising their child to hide the gap when smiling.  

These reactions can leave a lasting impression on a child, affecting their self-confidence for years. 

"It is crucial to raise awareness about this issue. Instilling a positive attitude about one's smile from a young age is as essential as teaching arithmetic, proper posture, or healthy eating habits," explains Morant. 

"Children need to learn to be proud of their smile and not feel the need to hide or be overly self-conscious about it. We aim to delve deeper into this area in our future campaigns."


Campaign Asia

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