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Helping Would-Be Samaritans Make the Call

The Advertising Council and Childhelp USA, a nonprofit group dedicated to the treatment and prevention of child abuse, will introduce a public service advertising campaign next month aimed at encouraging adults to intervene when they suspect such abuse.

Childhelp USA, which was founded in 1959, operates a national child abuse hotline that is anonymous, confidential and staffed with professional crisis counselors, as well as homes and other programs for abused children in Arizona, California, New York, Tennessee and Virginia.

Rebecca Heller, the group's director of communications, asserted that more than three children die each day in this country as a result of abuse in the home. She also said that more than three million cases of abuse would be reported this year. Many experts believe, however, that the actual number of such cases is three times the reported number, Ms. Heller said, in part, because although "people are aware that child abuse exists, many are not aware of its scope, how to prevent it or where to seek help."

The new campaign, part of the Ad Council's continuing initiative to help children, begun in 1995, was created by the New York office of Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, a unit of the WPP Group. This is the first multimedia national advertising campaign for Childhelp USA, which is based in Scottsdale, Ariz.

The ads, which the Ad Council will begin to distribute early next month, employ television, radio, print, outdoor and electronic media to depict people who abuse children; in the television and print ads they wear clothing that says "child abuser" on it.

One television ad, for example, shows a woman entering an elevator car already occupied by a man, whose jacket says "child abuser" on the back, and a young girl. As the man and girl leave the elevator, the girl turns around to glance at the woman, whose face registers her concern about the child.

A print ad is dominated by a photograph of the back of a woman's sweatshirt, with the words "child abuser" emblazoned across it; she carries a baby in her arms.

A radio ad features a waitress named Selma, who says: "I'll be your server this evening. The special is pasta primavera and it comes with a salad. Oh, and by the way, I abuse my children. Lots of times I beat them for even the smallest reason. When they really get on my nerves, I lock them in the closet for a few hours."

Copy on all ads says, "If only child abuse were this easy to recognize."

The ads also carry Childhelp USA's toll-free hotline telephone number and the campaign's tagline, "Trust your instincts."

This tagline was created, executives said, because although most Americans consider child abuse a serious problem, only some of them are willing to report it when confronted with it. For example, a poll conducted in 1999 for Children's Institute International, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization that also specializes in child abuse, found that although nine out of 10 Americans regard child abuse as a "serious problem," only one in three reported it when they encountered it.

"Frequently, adults recognize the signs of abuse, but are unsure about whether to get involved, or even what they can do to help a child," said Peggy Conlon, president and chief executive of the Ad Council. "This advertising dramatically communicates the importance of trusting your instincts when you suspect abuse, and I am confident that it will motivate bystanders to take action to help a child."

Jema Russo, an account supervisor at Ogilvy & Mather, noted that "one thing we learned coming out of our research for the campaign is that people have a great fear of reporting someone if they suspect abuse."

"If we show them it's this simple to do something about it, then they would not have to agonize about picking up the phone," she said.

Kate Blackwell, an associate creative director at Ogilvy & Mather, agreed. "We felt the campaign gives people permission to make the phone call," she said. "Even if they're not sure there's been abuse, they can talk through what they're seeing, what they want to do."

Jennifer Pybus, also an associate creative director at Ogilvy & Mather, said the agency had chosen to depict "everyday, average" people in the campaign, "because the perception is that child-beaters are blue-collar; they aren't."

"We wanted to show a range of people with different social and economic backgrounds," she said.

The campaign's ultimate goal, Ms. Heller of Childhelp USA said, is to raise the public's awareness of the organization's hotline. "We want them to know there's a confidential, 24-hour hotline they can call, and that they shouldn't hesitate to pick up the phone," she said. "It's better to be safe than sorry."

Posted on aef.com: April 21, 2003


Jane L. Levere, Stuart Elliott's In Advertising Newsletter - April 15, 2003

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