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Domestic violence campaign is correct. Politically.

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Australian domestic violence campaign commercial

What a piece of work he is.

By now, you and most of television-watching Australia have got your share of the $30 million awareness campaign aimed at curbing domestic violence in Australia.

The Let’s Stop it at the Start campaign is another in a long history of taxpayer-funded television commercials created – allegedly – with the intent to create social change.

We have blogged at length about this governmental go-to tactic before. Suffice to say that Hootville believes that there are many ways to create social change in 2016 and television advertising would be far down our list of tactics. Particularly so if the campaign comes with a $30 million price tag that could be directed at services or other social awareness options.

Television commercials, along with fridge magnets and mass letterbox drops risk being criticised as guilt-easing governmental expense motivated by the desire to appear to be seen to be doing something.

TV campaigns have their supporters. Many people point to anti-smoking and anti-drink-driving television campaigns and credit them with massive improvements in both attitude and behaviour.

These people are often the same people that have commissioned such campaigns or profited from their creation. These boosters forget that it is legislation and enforcement which made smoking expensive, inconvenient and often illegal. No doubt anti-drink driving and speeding commercials help shape driving habits but we dare say they don’t have the same pre-emptive impact as booze buses, speed cameras and demerit points. Fines may have played their part too.

So to our new taxpayer funded anti-domestic violence commercial. Rewatch it before you read on.

A few observations:

We like that this commercial exists. We really like how the commercial focuses not on broad attitudes but on small everyday, changeable behaviours. Rather than asking people to evolve to a higher level of being it demonstrates specific ways to combat everyday aggression and sexism showing phrases such as: “Don’t throw like a girl” in a negative light. Likewise sexting or being too quick to forgive a young boy’s aggressive behaviour towards a girl.

This is good advertising aimed as much at parenting as it is aimed towards curbing domestic violence.

One of the biggest mistakes any campaign can make – and we see it often – is to make the audience feel guilty or accused. People of all persuasions reject environmental doomsdayism and resent being told that their meat-eating, car-driving, central-heated lifestyles are to blame for rising sea levels and Indian summers.

Rightly or wrongly, many men – the prime target of this campaign – feel offended at the suggestion that they are inherently violent or sexist. They are inadequate idiots but we probably need to reach them with the message this commercial contains the most. Could humour / irony help? We think so. And yes, you can tackle any issue with humour.

This campaign risks offending a lot of people beyond just men. After all – when was the last time a parent took kindly to your feedback on their parenting?

We don’t like the very first lines  in the commercial.

When people are sympathetic to an argument they can easily overlook some miscalibration. The Let’s Stop it at the Start commercial opens up with a curious line of dialogue with the mother saying to fallen girl: “You’re OK. He just did it because he likes you.”

Is this really something that mothers tell their daughters after they have been the subject of some little bastard’s behaviour? It struck a strange note with us and we suspect that the oddness of it will create a convenient distraction for people who should be absorbing the commercial’s message. “He’s tired.” “He didn’t mean it.” “Did you do something to Tom?” may have been preferable.

Another distinct criticism we have of Let’s Stop it at the Start is that it is utterly Anglo-centric.

We hope that the many critics of our Anglo-centric media landscape waste no time in protesting the mono-faceted cultural palette on display. (We don’t think many will though.)

We have witnessed with increasing discomfort a ‘party line’ in the domestic violence debate that is at pains to present DV as everybody’s problem. It is everybody’s problem but just like other problems -  illiteracy, unemployment, pay day lender debt, diabetes – this problem does not impact equally across the demographic smorgasbord. No problem ever does. Not even in death are we equal – rich folk live longer.

The 2015 Dropping Off The Edge report by Jesuit Social Services and Catholic Social Services states that those living in the least advantaged 3% of NSW postcodes have a 300% higher than average experience of domestic violence. Indigenous women are 34 times more likely than average to be hospitalised due to domestic violence according to Professor of Indigenous Studies at University of Melbourne, Marcia Langton.

Does the commercial reflect this? Nope.

Though this commercial is aimed ultimately at targeting domestic violence, in the short-term it is a commercial aimed largely at parents. We should be aiming at parents from all cultures particularly those – and this will lose us some friends – who have grown up in cultures with different social norms around gender, violence and parenting.

Those groups in the community need to see themselves represented in this commercial. It’s difficult to see how the creators of this commercial overlooked that point. There’s not an indigenous, Southeast Asian, sub-continental, Chinese, middle-eastern, African, Eastern European or Maori face to be seen. All of these groups are huge components of contemporary Australia and they need to see themselves in such commercials along with those who look like they belong at Summer Bay.

Is political correctness getting in the way of an important social message? We wouldn’t be surprised. Sometimes a diverse display of people is politically correct. At other times an all-Anglo display is just as politically correct.

This recent anti-gambling commercial failed to show key cultural groups with a proven penchant for betting. What a wasted opportunity! And that scene in the park! And that music! Oy vey!

To pretend that only Anglo-celtic people need to consider their attitudes is a great disservice to us all. It also tends to tar a great many innocent people with a brush we’d rather avoid.

Note: the campaign website has content in non-English languages for those keen enough to seek them out. There’s also an Indigenous-themed radio commercial.

To be 100% clear – we understand that domestic violence happens everywhere. It is a cancer on our community and should be stopped everywhere. Priority #1. Everyone needs access to education and services but those services and awareness campaigns need to be targeted at those who need them most. The problem is too wicked to let political correctness stand in our way.

anti violence commercial

Feedback

Response from Citizen Clare McHugh:

Thanks for your blog. Interesting analysis but I can’t let it go without a quick response. What follows is a personal view.

No ad can be all things to all people. I’d love to see—and hope the government plans—subsequent ads and strategies shaping messages for particular groups and communities. However the poverty/cultural dynamic that you correctly identify as missing could make this ad a melange that does not penetrate with any message (and which you more than likely would analyse for its failure to send a clear message).

I suspect the pitch is deliberate (notwithstanding the much commented on middle-class Anglo-ness of our massmedia generally) so that ‘average’ citizens can’t let themselves off the hook. The ad does a good job in identifying how our own innocuous comments justify small incremental attitudes and acts of violence.

The people who want to be part of the change in society may recognise their own everyday comments and begin to think about their influence on children. By the way I don’t think the ‘prime target of this campaign’ is men. I think it’s trying to show how all of us, even well-meaning non-violent people, contribute to a community problem.

The ad does seem to target parents and parenting. What would an adult really say? See this six year old’s birthday party to hear what adults do say to children and each other in real life. Unfortunately it is still pervasive that too many adults care about their own social standing with other adults than about intervening positively or stopping something terrible.

The Royal Commission into sexual abuse of children tells us this in too many painful stories, repeated over decades across multiple institutions in society. This is what happens when adults do not want to look like they’re interfering, are worried what people think about them or their parenting or worried that their child’s behaviour reflects on them ie  looks sooky, will rock the boat or looks badly behaved.

My other major project at ECA is Start Early. Respectful relationships for life. You can see ECA’s Start Early site here or the modules themselves, which are aimed at educators of young children.

Love your work. Don’t always agree. But obviously it got a reaction!

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Why we don’t need another domestic violence awareness campaign

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Updated Tuesday May 12 2015 (Budget night)

social marketing

Not enough, yet too much.

Recent violence against women and children has the community appalled and politicians grappling for a response. Predictably our political leaders have swung behind an awareness campaign. The Federal Government pledged $16.7 million over three years in last night’s budget and COAG will throw in about $13 million more. It’s not often that you hear a marketer say this: but this time maybe more marketing isn’t the answer.

When non-marketing people refer to an awareness campaign, they usually mean advertising, typically on television, perhaps with a letterbox drop and celebrity YouTube thrown in. Badges are likely too.

domestic violence awareness campaign

Really? Do we really have to pay for this? On prime time TV? Save your money and build us a levy.

Politicians are drawn to advertising as it’s easily understood and highly visible. Politicians of all persuasions are drawn to measures that help them to be seen to be doing something. Taxpayer funded advertising has recently asked us to stop smoking, get moving, screen for cancers, work safely and curb alcohol consumption in front of children. The list goes on. One oddly-specific campaign even warns us of the perils of swimming in flood waters. Do these campaigns work? To some degree, surely they do. However if they worked as well as agencies and their clients argued they do, we’d all be thinner, richer and happier than we currently are.

It’s true that long-term, high-priced marketing campaigns have helped us dramatically turn-around levels of smoking and driving fatalities but it’s too easy to give marketing all the credit. Changing drink-driving from a skill to a socially unacceptable behavior took education but has been underpinned by constant enforcement and legislation. Hard-hitting, award-winning and incredibly expensive television commercials are all well and good but booze buses, speed cameras, demerit points, court appearances and licence loss are the true secret weapons of that success.

Smoking rates have plummeted. Do we have marketing to thank? Partly; though government’s ability to squeeze smokers over the availability, cost and convenience of their vice is key. The fact that cigarettes lead to cancer hasn’t hurt either. Anti-smoking and road safety campaign briefs are a relative doddle when compared to domestic violence – and progress still took decades. Changing attitudes and behaviours to domestic violence is far more challenging and far less likely to succeed. It’s the Everest of social marketing campaigns.

Social ills such as drink-driving, smoking and obesity are topics that most of us – even those of us guilty of the ‘crime’- can discuss. Smokers admit to failed attempts to quit, the plump lament their excess kilos, those living in bushfire zones confess to their indecision to stay or go. This is bread and butter barbeque conversation with little social backlash.

australia says no campaign

Another high profile campaign. Now loooong gone. We say NO to short-term, broad-based awareness raising.

Domestic violence is usually a dirty secret for victims and almost always so for perpetrators. Domestic violence has not has lacked for awareness-raising campaigns: The ‘Australia Says No’ campaign was a high-profile TV-driven campaign of the Federal Howard government. Did it help?

More recently police, media outlets and sporting codes have lent their support to the cause. This is great of course. White Ribbon Day is a now major national happening. The ribbon has become synonymous with violence against women – we see it on the lapels of the powerful, on our public buildings and at major sporting events.

We’ve had a flurry of celebrity ambassadors and confessions, social media outrage and even a twice-yearly White Ribbon Cup between two AFL teams. This all helps create a culture that is unaccepting of violence and it should continue but there comes a time when marketing ends and reality begins. Domestic violence is well and truly on the agenda. What next?

Marketing has limits when it comes to changing attitudes and behaviors. Even under the best of circumstances, a good campaign must be long-term and specifically targeted to the key audiences and must evolve overtime to help people make a change. A good campaign leads to specific actions.

family violence website development

Hume region family violence alliance website by Hootville. Cost about the same as a full page ad.

Experts with whom Hootville works tell us that enforcement and services are paramount. And that services are overwhelmed by demand. Campaigns eat up money. Awareness-raising campaigns are empty calories; feeling good in the short-term but amounting to nothing. Funds end up with consultants rather than services. And let us not forget that it is government that is accountable for the level of service and priority this issue and its victims receive. Will government be happy to see a campaign that lobbies for better services? We think not.

What would our desired actions be for a family violence campaign? Is it to encourage victims to leave to abusive situations? To inspire more reporting to police by family, friends and work-mates? How about tools for parents to raise less violent boys and less tolerant girls?

The ultimate creator of perception is reality. Every inadequate court sentence handed down to a violent criminal sends the message – ‘Violence is okay!’ Every video game aimed at young men with no female characters demonstrates that women don’t count. (Video games in which you can kill female prostitutes are surely an urban myth.) Every overflowing refuge says: “our care is finite.”

domestic violence campaigns

Fiona McCormack put her finger on the root cause of domestic violence. It won’t be easy to tackle.

The CEO of Domestic Violence Victoria, Fiona McCormack put it beautifully in an interview on ABC1’s 7.30 when she explained the link between misogynistic attitudes and domestic violence. She compared it to the connection between increased levels of homophobia and attacks on gay people. This concept may be a bridge too far for some people.

Most professionals in the domestic violence sector would rather see money diverted from additional awareness-raising to bolstering the range of services offered to victims.

Whenever a victim of family violence summons the courage to leave, she needs shelter, services and support immediately and indefinitely.  We need a justice system resourced and nimble enough to protect the innocent and deal with perpetrators. And when a victim reports a crime; she must feel confident that she will be believed, supported and protected. These are complex issues far beyond the remit of any marketing agency.

social marketing campaign

Working on some ideas for the little ladies. Seriously – this is EXACTLY how ad agency people are today. In Australia. In 2014.

“Can’t we have both services and marketing?” you ask. Well, based on the current inadequacy of services we can’t even get half of that mix right. Too often money that goes into campaigns directly comes out of services budgets.

Let’s leave the TV commercials and billboards for upcoming election campaigns. That said; there will be big ad agencies lining up to raise awareness at the expense of services. With respect to our peers (above): hands off.

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F%$* the Poor. When should you opt to shock?

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A few recent nonprofit marketing campaigns have given us pause to consider: is it best to gain attention even if it means losing a few delicate souls? Or is it wiser to tread carefully and continue to gently court favour from your audiences?

Both approaches have merit, though the conservative approach is in the overwhelming majority. Why? Because people in charge are terrified of offending people. They don’t want to stand out, make enemies or create headaches. Courage in the nonprofit marketing world is in short supply. Those in charge shy away from approaches deemed too intense, confronting, high-falutin or divisive.

fuck the porr campaign

We swear this billboard is in a good cause.

The good folk at UK’s Pilion Trust are made of sterner stuff and partnered with mega-global communications giant Publicis to create a video destined for controversy  - and lots of free media coverage.

Faced with typical nonprofit marketing restrictions; small budget, unsexy cause, no celebrity support and a crowded marketplace, Pilion Trust flicked the switch to ‘shock’ with its F#$@ the Poor video. Behind the swearing is a clever concept or premise: people offended by bigotry towards the poor; who claim to advocate for them; who challenge the sign-wearer were also very slow to lend financial assistance when politely asked. In other words – talk is cheap; put your money where your mouth is.

Were people offended when the video was released. Yep. But who cares? As Savvas Panas, the chief executive of the Pilion Trust, said: “We understand that some may be shocked by this footage. We are more offended however, that people across the United Kingdom are living in adverse poverty.” Nice line.

social marketing campaigns

There it is in black, white and red. Deal with it.

The Every Australian Counts campaign didn’t hold back when it released this message via social media and beyond. No swearing, but no punches pulled either.

Some thoughts on a good campaign:

1. No attention = no impact. It’s that simple – if you don’t grab the attention of all those busy, bored, self-interested,  Facebooking, fast-food dining, tired and dispassionate souls out there you will stand no chance to win them over with your carefully crafted messaging and heart-lifting imagery. Of course impact needn’t be created by hard-hitting approaches. Humour and absurdity make an impact too – though it’s far harder to get right.

Social marketing campaign

High-concept but heart-breaking.

2. Hard-hitting / high concept campaigns get to more people via the media coverage they inspire, than via the channels of the actual campaign. That’s a HUGE boost to your bottom line and campaign reach. How much is a page 8 pic and story worth to you? What if the coverage is similar to that given to Save the Children UK’s latest (stupendous) effort?

3. You win some, you lose some. Any true supporter will overlook their offence. Those who sever ties over some offensive word, nudity or an approach weren’t real supporters to begin with. Your chief concern should be igniting the supporter base which will otherwise sit dormant. Beyond that you want to pique the interest of new folk.

4. Put complaints in perspective. Nonprofits are v ery sensitive to criticism from stakeholders and the public. If you ever get the chance to unleash a campaign that is likely to cause a stir, have an understanding that a few negative comments is just that – a few negative comments. The I Wish I Had Breast Cancer campaign surely upset thousands.

Live export eMarketing campaign

Tough to look at. Tough to ignore?

5. Change hurts. Going from business-as-usual marketing to hard-hitting or confronting is not easy. The reason for your change in approach may have to be explained to your tried and trusted supporters, especially the V.I.Ps.

6. Consistency matters: A bad-assed campaign belongs to a bad-assed nonprofit. If you can’t deliver on the tone you set, don’t assume the tone. Animals Australia (on the left) hits hard but that’s exactly what we expect from them. BTW please spend 2m to support the campaign here.