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Sadly, in Australia, the focus lies in reporting bullying after it happens, not preventing it in the first place. Approximately 463,000 young people are bullied online annually, and victims of online abuse are up to nine times more likely to engage in self-harm and suicidal ideation. 78% of youth bullied online are 10-15 years old. Headspace, a youth mental health initiative established by the Australian government, saw an opportunity to use technology to change kids' behaviour and reduce cyber bullying in Australia.  

More than 67% of kids aged 12-13 and more than 92% of those 14-19 have their own mobile phone. With screens a literal extension of themselves, social media is unavoidable. Social media is not only where friendship groups thrive, it is where the majority of conversations occur.   

There is a heightened bravery and sense of power that occurs from the safety behind a screen – with a screen as a buffer words can become more forceful – even hurtful. Seeing an insult in writing is a powerfully confronting experience for a victim – perhaps even more damaging than a verbal slur.  

There was an opportunity to change behaviour and get kids to think about the words they write. Reword became the tool to engage with kids, curb this behaviour and stop cyber bullying in its tracks. 


To break through the barrier of the screen and make them conscious of the potential impact of their words, it would have to do something that interrupted their behaviour. 

Reword was designed to change the culture of online bullying, stopping behaviour as it happens. Acting as a real time spell checker, Reword identifies potentially harmful words and prompts the author to reconsider and, most importantly, rewords their message or post. 

By collaborating with Headspace Youth Mental Health Foundation and youth during prototype development, the agency refined usability and messaging. Testing showed 79% of young people were willing to reword when prompted. Reword took negative words such as hate, idiot and stuck a line through them prompting kids to change what they had written.  

With such a powerful new tool to combat this issue the agency needed to create strong public awareness through influencer endorsement, PR and stakeholder engagement (schools, ambassadors & organisations). But it also needed to engage directly with the kids themselves and get them to see the benefit of the tool and start to integrate it into their daily rituals to really change behaviour. It needed kids to start to take responsibility for their actions and Reword would let them see this first hand.   

The agency pitched for minimal funds ($25K), worked pro-bono and leveraged media partners and relationships to ensure Reword was seen by teens directly in the very environments bullying behaviour was rife – giving the best chance to change behaviour. 


Reword is a red line alerting users of bullying behaviour in real time. Acting as an educational tool helping develop young people’s moral compass when they become active on social media.

A JavaScript tool that integrates with social and messaging platforms, Reword uses a custom lexicon database to identify strings of words that form millions of potential insult combinations. As a child types, regex matching cross-references the database to identify abusive patterns, scanning for insulting phrases and sentiment, not just swearing. When a pattern is found, the child is alerted with a red strikethrough, instantly interrupting behaviour and prompting them to reconsider.

After a successful pilot programme, it launched an in-school programme and made Reword available as a free Google Chrome extension. An integrated campaign gave people the opportunity to delve into various points of view, fuelling support. The campaign asked Protectors to install Reword and to show their support, raising awareness in their communities by sharing. 

It targeted youth via the in-school programme and on social media, inviting them to directly interact with Reword and add new bullying terms, growing the tool’s intelligence and helping it recognise evolving language and slang. A custom moderation system was built to ensure appropriate phrases are accepted to the database. Being co-authors impelled them to take a stand against online bullying, promoting uptake and advocacy among their friends.

Starcom needed Reword to interrupt teens’ social media experience – for them to see Reword in context of their real time conversations and behaviours. 

But with only $25K, it needed to be ruthless about where it could have the biggest impact amongst teens. It decided to focus on social media channels considered most critical to their personal profile, where online bullying was most common – Facebook and YouTube.   

Formats included video within newsfeeds, with auto play – ensuring Reword was integrated amongst news from their social community. It also included pre rolls in high impact YouTube environments. Sponsored posts ran on both sites, allowing users to tag friends, share and comment. 

To ensure the campaign was even more hard hitting, the agency leveraged its media relationships. It called in a face to face brief and secured support from key stakeholders to target teens when the message would mean the most.   

More than 65% of teens 12-19 have taken public transport in the last four weeks. Key digital OOH (QMS) and key train station sites (Southern Cross & Flinders Street Station) targeted them on the way to and from school, during online peaks and a street furniture allowed for capture on the go.  

Additional digital placements across high reaching sites (Yahoo, MCN, NineMSN, Evolve media) and CSA TV activity on networks 7,9, 10 and Foxtel helped expand its reach. 

The media approach and partnerships were the only direct Reword correspondence to teens – complimenting the indirect influence of the PR, Stakeholder and Influencer strategy. 


Reword has successfully begun to change online bullying behaviour 

The goal to reduce online bullying behaviour by 30% was smashed out of the park, delivering a 67% reduction per user and a total of 84% of online insults being reworded. The call to action resonated, generating over 20,000 insult submissions from young people, creating millions of new combinations. 

The combined PR and Media campaign achieved 150 million media impressions and more than $500K in media value in only the first six weeks of the campaign. 

It also received global coverage on CNN, Good Morning America, Wired and Mashable, along with personal messages from around the world.  

Reword successfully engaged 260 schools and had achieved 150,000 installs from influencers – but the change of behaviour could only come from teens, in their own social media world.

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March - April 2016
Leo Burnett
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