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Creative Creative Works OOH

How M&C Saatchi used AI to create a startling outdoor campaign against knife crime


By Amy Houston, Senior Reporter

April 24, 2023 | 7 min read

The project launched leading up to Mother’s Day in the UK and is based on the findings that 300 people were admitted to hospital with knife-related injuries around that time the previous year.


M&C Saatchi’s ad campaign for the Ben Kinsella Trust / M&C Saatchi London

Back in March, creative agency M&C Saatchi built a machine-learning tool that was able to recognize ambulance sirens. The signals were then sent to various outdoor poster sites that proceeded to show text messages from mothers to their sons detailing the worry they had around knife crime.

The project is for the Ben Kinsella Trust, a charity set up to stop knife crime after the brutal murder of its namesake. 15 years after their own son’s passing, the Kinsella family continues to campaign for change.

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“When we spoke to mums, they told us that every time they heard a siren, they were thinking about loved ones and what they were up to,” explains Guy Bradbury, creative partner at the ad agency. “That was triggering them to send messages. We handed the poster sites over to them to encourage their loved ones not to carry a knife.”

A few years ago the charity released a thought-provoking radio ad titled ‘Shout Out to My Son’ and in some ways, this is a continuation of that campaign. “We wanted to build on that and really try to do something impactful the second time around.”

The creative duo that worked on the idea first presented it shortly before the Covid-19 pandemic, but with so many people in hospital around that time, it just wasn’t the right moment. “With all the sirens going off and people being rushed into hospital we didn’t think it was appropriate,” explains Bradbury.

When he joined the agency in January last year the concept was pitched again. He remembers thinking it was just too great an idea not to get out into the world. “It deserved to be seen,” he said. “And we partnered with Clear Channel to make it happen.” That collaboration ensured they secured nearly one thousand digital billboards across the UK, and fifty of them were donated.

Those poster sites were home to some gut-wrenching messages, something that Bradbury attests was tough to see. Meetings over in Islington with the Ben Kinsella team were eye-opening too. “You hear the perspective of knife crime from every angle. Hearing about Ben who lost his life in 2008 and the letter he wrote to the then Prime Minister about knife crime before being brutally murdered,” explains the creative. “The more we listened to mums talking about their fears every time their loved ones went out and the trigger that a siren created, there was a perfect idea in it. That’s what the audience was feeling.” It was a case of evoking it and telling the story in a sensitive-yet-provocative way.

Young kids don’t listen to authorities and right now there’s a bit of lack of trust going on, adds Bradbury. But the person they will take advice from is their mum. It was a relatively easy job to connect those two groups through media.

Predominantly, research that guided the projects showed that they were talking to 16 to 24-year-olds, often from single-parent households. Bradbury says they don’t want to just focus on the messaging coming from mothers, but for this campaign it made sense.

“What's wonderful about where we are in the world right now with technology is almost everything's possible,” says the creative. “They had an incredible guy called Arthur Tidsley, it became a passion project for him.”

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Bradbury goes on to explain that Tidsley would go out at night, record in areas with high-knife crime rates and train a machine to recognize them. The team at M&S Saatchi believes it’s a world-first, they have struggled to find any other examples of this type of campaign where a sound triggers a message.

The impact of this campaign, so far, has been huge. Bradbury explains there have been well over 4.4m impressions across England, plus 103k during the two-week period in London alone. “The proudest moment for me is when it appears on the news,” he concludes.

“I like doing work that has a real impact on the world.”

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