The Smear for Smear campaign from Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, which has enlisted Shine Communications for the project, urges women to smear lipstick on to their faces, take a ‘selfie’ and share it on social media with #SmearforSmear and @JoTrust.
They are encouraged to nominate others to do the same and asked to highlight the importance of smear tests to combat cervical cancer.
The charity says cervical screening saves 5,000 lives a year yet one in five women who are eligible to attend do not take up their invitation. For young women aged 25 to 29 this rises to one in three.
Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust comms manager Maddy Durrant told PRWeek she believed "hundreds" of posts had been published already since the campaign was launched on Sunday.
Durrant said the initial plan was to run the campaign entirely in-house but it was decided to enlist Shine to help the three-strong comms team, particularly to gain support from high profile "influencer" figures.
Shine contacted a number of celebrities and asked them to share their Smear for Smear images at 11am on Sunday. Stephen Fry and Gaby Roslin were among those to show their support:
Durrant said: "We have quite a few articles coming out today and through the week and hopefully that will push people to do it."
The work will be split "50/50" between the in-house team and Shine, Durrant explained.
The campaign's approach mirrors that of last summer's Ice Bucket Challenge, which was very successful in raising money to help fight neurodegenerative disease after a huge number of people, including many celebrities and high-profile politicians, shared their videos on social media and challenged others to do the same.
A similar trick was pulled off by Cancer Research UK’s No Make-Up Selfie campaign. Both initiatives were listed among the top five PR campaigns of 2014 by entrants to PRWeek UK’s most recent Power Book.
Durrant said the ALS and Cancer Research campaigns influenced the new initiative, but admitted it would be difficult to replicate their impact: "I think that only works when it’s started organically, it has a bit of magic and it has a bit of luck."
She said previously the issue did receive a lot of press coverage but failed to get women "engaged". "It’s not a fundraising initiative, it’s an awareness initiative. Women are saying it’s reminding me to go for my smear test. That's the key message for us."
The idea for the campaign came from Ben Akers, creative director at production company Chief Productions, who is helping on a pro-bono basis. He also helped design washroom adverts for the campaign.
Robert Music, chief executive of Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust, said: "We hope the public get fully behind this fun and simple campaign. The more women who take this life saving five-minute test, the fewer who will face infertility, early menopause, more extensive long-term effects and potentially even loss of life. It's time we all acted as it may just save a life."