Turning ads into a weapon against violence

In a series of videos that won the recently announced “Safer Sydney Ad Challenge”, James Gillespie showed how advertising can be used to examine and ask questions about serious societal issues.

The Sydney Morning Herald competition saw judges work through almost 1500 entries from Australia and overseas.

Mr Gillespie, who is 27-years-old, submitted three ads to the contest that show a punching bag machine in a pub and various men walking up to the bag and hitting it, before hearing a voiceover outlining the potential repercussions had their punch hit another human.

In one video, after a seemingly intoxicated man punches the bag, the voiceover says: “knockout punch! He suffers an aneurysm three hours later. Congratulations, you’ve taken a life.” In another it says: ”massive blow! He loses his short term memory forever. Congratulations, you’re going to jail.”

Mr Gillespie told The Newspaper Works that part of the ad’s purpose was to show the lack of foresight of many people engaging in alcohol-fuelled violence and the flawed attitudes some Australians have towards violence more broadly.

“The idea is that what you want to do at that stage is knock someone out, but you’re not actually, when you’re angry, thinking about the consequences of it,” he said.

“Some people treat violence as fun – I think it might be a bit of an Australian thing – to see violence as a solution without that many consequences. “

The Herald’s “Safer Sydney” campaign was launched in response to the death of Thomas Kelly in 2012 and was revived after the death on New Year’s Eve of teenager Daniel Christie – both of whom died as a result of punches to the head.

The three ads submitted by Mr Gillespie were filmed at the Huntsbury Hotel in Petersham. The pub sourced the punching bag machine for him and then he used three GoPros and audio tracks played on his iPhone to film and produce the videos.

Nick Churchill won DesignCrowd’s “Safer Sydney” poster contest for a depiction of an empty jail cell and the words “1 punch. 8 years. Be a real man and walk away”.  Kip Elder won the reader’s choice award.

The judging panel for the awards included Rob and Claudia McEwen, the father and sister of Michael McEwen, who was assaulted in Bondi in December, community manager for DesignCrowd Josephine Sabin, 2013 Tropfest winner Matt Hardie, Herald news director Judith Whelan and executive business director for Ogilvy & Mather Leigh Bignell.

Ms Bignell said that the overall quality and effort put into entries was impressive and reflected a clear concern by Sydneysiders with regards to violence on the street and how solutions can be reached.

“Many entrants wanted to send a clear message to the ‘coward punchers’ – they questioned their manhood and made it perfectly clear that no-one thinks you are a real man if you throw cheap shots,” she said.

“We also saw a lot of entries encouraging drinkers to be aware of their own limits, to avoid a blind drunk, blind rage combination. Stupid choices, made drunk, can cause lasting damage.”

Ms Bignell recognised the difficulty of changing behaviour in this area through advertising but noted that it does have a role in its capacity to send or reinforce important messages.

Mr Gillespie said that while he has not been directly exposed to the consequences of alcohol-related violence, he has seen it affect people around him.

“I’ve stopped going to certain places in Sydney because I know it’s such an issue,” he said. “I know a lot of people who’ve had brain damage from it [alcohol-fuelled violence], or have been glassed.”

He also there are systemic attitude issues that make the occurrence of alcohol-fuelled violence difficult to eradicate. “There’s a cultural thing there of male one-upmanship that I think is probably the bigger issue and alcohol just facilitates it.”

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