Leading up to her wedding day on Oct 11, Thea was just your average bride-to-be. According to updates on her blog, she sampled wedding cakes, tried on dresses and questioned what her new married life would bring. The one, not-so subtle difference was that Thea was in the seventh grade and Gier, her husband-to-be, was 25 years her senior.
When the story of twelve-year-old Thea’s upcoming nuptials hit the news, Norwegians were outraged. Concerned citizens called to notify the police, contacted child welfare services and rallied to put a stop to the wedding with the hashtag #stoppbryllupet (stop the wedding).
A week before her big day, it was revealed that the blog, the wedding and Thea herself were all one big hoax designed to draw attention to the plight of child brides globally. Every day, 39,000 young girls are forced to be married. At this rate, the UN estimates 150 million girls will be married before their eighteenth birthday in the next decade.
This clever marketing campaign turned viral phenomenon was the brainchild of Plan Norway. Plan’s Country Director, Olaf Thommessen, explained that “we really wanted to bring home the issue and by creating a shock factor, we think we have really got peoples’ attention.”
The online campaign was linked to the International Day of the Girl Child on October 11 (Thea’s supposed wedding day). A fake ceremony was held in Norway where several hundred protesters assembled outside the church and 3.5 million global Facebook users joined the fight online (see the wedding video below).
Non-profit marketers are constantly confronted with the challenge of getting people to care, and subsequently donate to issues that don’t directly affect their day-to-day life or are too far away to physically see. What made this campaign so successful was that it brought the issue to life. It made it feel urgent and relatable. Norwegians could not comprehend that child marriage was happening in their country, the world’s most developed nation according to the global Human Development Index (HDI). As a result, Thommessen notes that the cause has garnered the attention and financial support of people who are not usually motivated by or involved in these kinds of global issues.
While Thea’s blog was fake, the content used to populate it was inspired by the actual thoughts and fears of child brides everywhere. According to the actress who portrayed Thea, Maja Bergström, “it was tough to be a child bride. Everything was so wrong, but it was also so important. I think it is just so terrible that 39,000 girls are made to be child brides every day, and I’m glad that I have given them a face. I want all the world’s girls to be able to go to school, to play with friends, and to be children – just like me.”
Plan Norway hopes that all this media attention will yield large-scale global action to address child marriage. Thommessen shares his thoughts:
“It is incredibly powerful to experience how an entire nation, and the world around us, has mobilised in the campaign against child marriage. People now no longer want to sit idly by and watch as somewhere a girl is forced to become a child bride every two seconds. It is a sign that the leaders of the world must take seriously, so that all the forces of good unite in the fight against child marriage and on behalf of girls’ rights.”