How an Agency’s Clever Use of Tech Gets People at Festivals Talking About Consent

Heat brought 'Let's Get Consensual' to Cannes, Coachella and now Lollapalooza

Heat's 'Hookup Station' turns the usual 'Do you trust this device?' charging message into a metaphor for physical consent. Heat
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“Killing the mood” is the worst excuse to avoid a conversation around physical and sexual consent. So while some might find it uncomfortable to insert the topic right into the heart of a high-energy music festival, San Francisco agency Heat is proving that, with the right approach, you can spark important discussions at the right time.

According to research compiled by the agency’s “Let’s Get Consensual” campaign, 92% of women say they’ve experienced harassment at music festivals. That’s why such events have become the primary venues for the campaign, which aims to generate candid—even fun—conversations in person around a topic that can often be difficult to broach constructively, especially online.

The week, Heat and its partner nonprofits have brought the campaign to Lollapalooza, where festival-goers can find “Hookup Stations” to charge their devices. Instead of the usual “Do you trust this device?” message, the stations (which Heat also brought to this year’s Cannes Lions) ask, “Is this a consensual hookup?” and remind users they can revoke their consent at any time by unplugging. Campaign representatives at the festival continue the conversation with those interested in learning more.

“We talk about the nuances of it, how consent can be withdrawn at any time,” says Elaine Cox, executive creative director at Heat. “We all need to know that just because you said you were OK with something at first doesn’t mean you’ve given a green light indefinitely for the future.”

While the subject of “Let’s Get Consensual” is serious, the tone in how it reaches out to festival attendees is light and approachable. That was a key decision in the development of the campaign and helped separate it from advocacy efforts that can feel more like a lecture than a conversation starter.

“At first, we may have started out from an outrage place,” Cox says, “but we calmed down from that. We really wanted to change people’s thinking, and you’re not going to do that from a place of outrage.”

Instead, the agency—Adweek’s Breakthrough Agency of the Year in 2015—has relied on clever uses of technology to get a bit disruptive without derailing the fan experience.

Beyond the Hookup Stations, Heat has also used Apple’s AirDrop feature, which sends files between nearby phones via Bluetooth, to start conversations at events like Coachella about respecting personal space and not seeing wardrobe choices as invitations for physical advances.

Bringing the conversation of consent to festivals isn’t just about the size of the audience or the extent of the harassment epidemic at such events. It also acknowledges that consent should be a central part of fun social situations where people are making new connections.

“Consent is around something that is fun—hooking up, making friends, turning strangers into non-strangers,” Cox says.

The message and approach of “Let’s Get Consensual” has attracted the interest of several nonprofits who have become official partners in the project: No More, A Call to Men and RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network).

At San Francisco Pride in June, Heat used the AirDrop tactic to share a slightly different set of messages than at Coachella. This time, the focus was on both respecting boundaries and recognizing that consent is never a permanent, irreversible arrangement.

For example, one AirDrop message preview the campaign sent said “I Love You.” If you accept the AirDrop, it reveals the full vertical image, which says “‘I Love You’ is not consent.”

“We found people were starting to have conversations with the people they were there with,” Cox says of the San Francisco Pride activation. “They started a conversation [by consenting to the AirDrop]—we talked to them a little bit, but they continued that conversation.”

So far, the team from Heat’s been pleased with the results of “Let’s Get Consensual.”

Men, Cox says, have been glad to have a place to discuss the topic with more context than in social media, where such discussions can quickly devolve into mockery and allegations of oversensitivity.

Women, meanwhile, have appreciated seeing the burden of boundary-setting being shifted off of their own backs and becoming a bigger, proactive conversation for everyone to have, she said.

“Women were relieved,” Cox says. “They’re just pent up and have so many thoughts and feelings on this topic. They’ve been pressured to protect themselves, dress certain ways, surround themselves with friends, call people when they get home.”

“Consent is not a problem,” she says. “Consent is a solution to a problem. Consent prevents problems.”

Another effort that received praise for its excellent use of context and metaphor was a PSA from the Thames Valley Police in the U.K., which compared sexual consent to being offered a cup of tea. On the product-innovation front, BBDO Argentina also got attention earlier this year with its condom “Consent Pack” that required two people’s cooperation to open.

@griner David Griner is creative and innovation editor at Adweek and host of Adweek's podcast, "Yeah, That's Probably an Ad."