By Imogen Watson | Senior reporter

May 19, 2020 | 9 min read

A result of pandemic restrictions, the UN estimates there will be 15m more cases of domestic abuse violence this year. The Drum explores the all-important creative that’s cutting through the noise in what is a scary, uncertain time for victims.

Government instruction over the past few months of global lockdown has been designed in the interest of safety. Stay home, it says, save lives. But for those faced with domestic abuse, staying home is far from safe and in some cases can be deadly as victims are unable to escape their abusers.

According to research conducted by the UN Population Fund, at least 15m more cases of domestic violence are predicted around the world this year as a result of pandemic restrictions. In the UK, calls to national domestic abuse helplines in the UK have risen by 49% in the last six weeks, and in France there’s been a 30% increase. A police station in Wuhan, meanwhile, reported a 300% increase in calls during the height of the crisis.

As these appalling reports made headlines, those equipped to help the most vulnerable in their time of need turned to advertising in a bid to raise awareness of their services.

“When lockdown was announced, thousands of people were suddenly stuck indoors, day and night, with their abusers who were feeling dis-empowered and frustrated,” explains Nicky Bullard, the chairwoman and chief creative officer at MRM/McCann who created a harrowing PSA for the domestic abuse charity No More. ”It was a horrific perfect storm.”

Right now is a scary, unprecedented time – both for the victims of domestic abuse and the charities designed to support them. All-important creative that pulls back the curtain on what is happening behind closed doors really is a lifeline for many. “The work has to drive to action,“ says Bullard. “This couldn’t just be about awareness.“

The chilling ’StillHere’, meanwhile, takes the form of a video call between two friends in lockdown and gets physically interrupted by the abuser of one of them. Yvonne Caplice, who is the business director at TBWA\Dublin, the agency behind the film for Ireland’s Department of Justice and Equality, explains: “We wanted to speak directly to victims of domestic violence to remind and reassure them that support is very much still in place to help them, and to direct them towards that support.

“The target audience was women and men who are suffering from domestic violence, but we also wanted to remind the perpetrators that support for victims were still here and full protection of the state was available alongside the support of our justice system.“

At the beginning of lockdown, the Home Office briefed FCB Inferno to develop a national campaign that reassured those suffering from domestic abuse that they are still able to leave their home and seek refuge.

"Our strategy was to devise a highly visible public information campaign which would clearly communicate that support services were still open and available and, most crucially, that if anyone was in immediate danger that they should leave their home and seek help," explains Sharon Jiggins, executive vice-president, FCB Inferno on the #YouAreNotAlone campaign.

"The creative idea centred around a symbol of solidarity, a heart on a hand, in combination with the message you are not alone," she continues. "The intention was to illicit mass public support to show those affected by abuse that society at large does not tolerate domestic abuse."

How to film in lockdown

Given that domestic abuse charities, governing bodies and their ad agencies are responding to an issue that has arisen during the lockdown, they have needed to find practical ways to shoot , while casting the right people can be tricky due to social distancing rules.

A spot for No More is shot from the perspective of a neighbour looking through a window at a man washing his hands, before the distressing line ’there’s an epidemic you can’t wash your hands of’ appears and the shot moves to the floor where a pair of legs lay motionless. Bullard says production proved the biggest challenge in putting this together.

“The director, Callum ​MacDiarmid, devised an approach that was not only practical, but meant the strong visual execution draws the viewer in, then turns their initial perception upside down,“ she explains, adding that it was filmed at the director of photography’s home and that MacDiarmid worked remotely viewing the playback takes and giving technical and performance direction remotely.

For Vikalp Women’s Group, an NGO that works to combat domestic violence in Gujarat, India, ADK Fortune created a film to encourage people to call its 24-hour helpline if they witness abuse. Nakul Sharma, vice-president and executive creative director at ADK Fortune, explains: “As the director didn’t have the freedom to do regular casting, the actor is the director’s own 86-year-old grand aunt.“

She goes on to detail the difficulties faced, adding: “The director was also the director of photography as no one could enter his house and the agency could not travel, so we had to be ultra sure about what we wanted. And there was a pressing urgency to get it up and running as the problem was reaching gigantic proportions.“

For BMF, the agency that created a campaign for the Australian Government to remind Australians faced with domestic, family and sexual violence that support services are available 24/7, animation instead of a live action gave the team greater freedom as they were able to imply relationship difficulties through visual metaphors rather than actors.

“Lockdown meant animation was the only viable option,“ admits Pia Chaudhuri, the agency’s group creative director. “It also allowed for a little more creative freedom than if we’d used live action,“ she says. As well as beautiful animation that remained sensitive to the experiences of victims, she says sound design was also integral to creating emotion – both empathy and hope.

As is currently the norm, all agency, client and production meetings were conducted via Zoom or conference calls, says Chaudhuri, including three to four hours voiceover and audio sessions.

Overcoming reduced budgets

With the global pandemic impacting every pocket of the economy, the charity sector has been bearing the brunt, analysts warning that a financial crisis might be caused as hundreds of fundraising events get cancelled and people tighten their purse strings amid economic uncertainty.

With expected losses for the sector likely to run into hundreds of millions of pounds, this added strain caused by a lack in funding is met by increased dependence on their services. ”Our main challenge was creating this for no budget,” admits Jo Wallace, creative director at Wunderman Thompson UK, of a hard-hitting video that gave a fresh, relevant take to the user-generated content aesthetic produced out of lockdown.

The National Domestic Abuse Helpline (NCDV) operates as a socially driven business rather than as a charity, and its chief exec Mark Groves says its ”normal marketing budget is very small” and that it is the quality of the service it provides that markets its service.

Wallace says it was ”incredible to see the passion and support everyone put into this campaign because they really believed in the importance of the message and idea we had to convey it,” adding that while Wunderman Thompson didn’t have the media budget, business director Sally Emerton reached out to media owners –including Kinetic, JC Decaux, Ocean, Blow Up, Stylist magazine and Facebook – who all offered free ad space.

As a sector that relies heavily on out-of-home and big ticket creative to get its message across, media plans have had to been adapted to make sure it is reaching vulnerable people and allies in lockdown.

”We learned that, even in lockdown, victims are able to access essential services like doctors, pharmacies and supermarkets, so our media plan focused on OOH placements around these services,” explains BMF’s Chaudhuri. ”We know that people are watching a lot of television right now, so the plan also takes this into account.”

TBWA\Dublin also found TV an effective platform to drive the message. ”The campaign also got huge support from the media outlets in Ireland, with spots on the national news, popular TV talk shows and current affairs radio shows,” says Caplice.

Alongside radio, where the ads addressed both female and male victims in two dramatic ads, the team produced a 15 second video for Instagram Stories, which simply displayed the campaign message and phone numbers.

”We felt that a silent lifeline like this would be more appropriate for Instagram,” Caplice admits. ”Any person scrolling at home could still receive the message and the help they needed, without unnecessarily arousing the suspicion of anyone around them by having the audio on.”

McCann/MRM No More

Meanwhile McCann/MRM – which produced the work for No More pro-bono – stuck by OOH. ”Outdoor may have seemed a strange choice of media at the time, but actually, in the time the work went live, we were all super sensitive every time we left the safety of our homes,” Bullard explains.

She insists that vulnerability when you are outdoors makes the headlines even more powerful when we then put ourselves in the shoes of someone who is utterly vulnerable indoors, trapped and being abused.

With headlines across the globe highlighting the spike in domestic abuse cases, and with lockdown ongoing, these campaigns are a lifeline.

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