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A hard fact: One in three Australian women will experience physical violence in their adult lifetime. Another fact: Almost one in five will experience sexual violence. 

The road to this violence starts long before any physical act. It starts as young people form their attitudes to relationships, and adopt anti-social attitudes and behaviours that may lead to violence later in life.

On behalf of the Australian Government UM Australia’s task was to encourage teens to be respectful in their early relationships, to learn new ways to interact with one other, to prevent violence later in life.

UM was given three key objectives:
1. Campaign understanding – 60%.
2. Social conversation and buzz – 10 million organic impressions.
3. Publicity – public support of key teen role models.

Its research showed that teens were so keen to race into relationships they do so before they have the emotional maturity to cope. The drunken antics in popular TV shows like Jersey Shore were further clouding their judgment, giving them the wrong idea about what counts as acceptable behaviour.

The behaviour insight: For teens any relationship (even a bad one) was better than no relationship at all.

UM had to reset this attitude and help teens identify and call out unacceptable relationship behaviour. Traditional ‘top-down’ government advertising would be met with outright rejection, so they turned the conventional model on its head and got straight into the heart of teen conversations about relationships.


Teen conversations now live online through social media platforms such as YouTube, Twitter and Facebook, but the lack of formal policing in these environments had left teenagers vulnerable to online abuse.

If left unchecked these abusive words and actions could ultimately manifest in violent behaviours in later life, but any attempt by authorities to govern behaviours within such environments would be met with contempt from teens.

UM discovered that most teens were actually respectful in their online behaviours and feel uncomfortable when they witness others being victimised.

This led to the consumer insight: Teens are willing to speak out against disrespectful behaviour, but need to feel they are part of a bigger community taking a stand.

Rather than adopt broadcast communications telling teens how to behave UM harnessed the power of their social communities to encourage them to define and enforce ‘the line’ themselves.

UM's idea was to create an online term teenagers could use to call out behaviour they considered to be ‘crossing the line’. To succeed it had to be instantly recognisable and easily memorable. This term would enter social networks and everyday conversations to be used like ‘OMG’, ‘LOL’, or even ‘YOLO’.

And so ‘#XTL’ was born – shorthand for ‘crossing the line’. Whether an insulting or hurtful comment from a boyfriend or sharing a private picture without consent, from now on wherever the line has been crossed, it’s XTL.

The campaign was structured in three phases:

Phase 1: ESTABLISH the meaning of XTL by defining the term in credible online information sources.

Phase 2: SEED the term by engaging teen influencers and idols to adopt the phrase.

Phase 3: CEMENT the use of #XTL in everyday conversations about relationship issues by provoking debate about when situations should be considered XTL.


Phase 1: Establish the meaning of the term XTL

UM created XTL definitions in Wikipedia, Slang and Urban Dictionary and optimised SEO performance to feature in top search results. These became the first places teens looked once the term popped up.

Phase 2: SEED the term

The agency then recruited young celebrity role models such as Ed Sheeran, Reece Mastin and Missy Higgins to use the term and share their personal experience of XTL behaviours.

UM then created designer #XTL t-shirts and distributed them to influential teen media outlets. The accompanying tag encouraged personalities to support the initiative by wearing the t-shirt in public.

This resulted in widespread earned media coverage with features in leading TV programmes, editorial spreads in teen magazines and online endorsement. The stars of the incredibly popular TV soap Neighbours even started wearing #XTL t-shirts to publicity events.

Phase 3: CEMENT the use of #XTL in everyday conversations

Working with key social influencers, such as Teen Survival Guide and Shardette, UM then opened the debate about what crossing the line meant to their audience. Live Twitter Q&As also took place during Australia’s top teen radio show Hot Hits.

Existing campaign communities were prompted to generation conversations in social media about XTL. Open-ended questions and polls were posed across social media pages and through unbranded Twitter handle @ThatsXTL. Teens were able to define for themselves whether “Not letting your girlfriend hangout with her mates” was “XTL or OK?”


1. Campaign understanding: 80% of teens aware of the campaign correctly identified the meaning of XTL when surveyed in independent tracking research and 86% used it in its correct context. Of this group 42% reported having seen #XTL used in Facebook. One third said their friends had used it.

2. Social conversation and buzz: As teens saw their favourite celebrities, other role models and their peers use the term XTL the phrase entered their vernacular. Social media monitoring shows over 16,000 conversations using XTL have been registered so far, generating 108,000 social interactions (comments, replies, re-tweets and #xtl). A massive 21 million organic social impressions have been registered – these are instances of teens being exposed to the term XTL in social networks.

3. Publicity: This ground-breaking approach generated nearly double the original media investment and the support of key teen role models proved invaluable in raising awareness of the term XTL. In creating the term XTL, UM gave teens the confidence and the means to discuss, call out and self-regulate abusive online behaviours. Their social initiative will live on way beyond its campaign lifecycle and help break the cycle of violence. 

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January - June 2013
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