“Words can be Weapons” Campaign Uses Social Media to Raise Awareness of Verbal Abuse

This post was written by Victoria Cook, Editor at Ogilvy Public Relations Beijing.

Many people are familiar with the concept of a “hotline” for people to call when they need help, advice, or just a person at the other end of the line to talk with one-on-one. Now, thanks to new social media platforms that put privacy ahead of promotion, we can create similar “helplines” online while using other platforms to advocate for these helplines and the issues they address. This was the innovative idea from Social@Ogilvy Beijing for a recent campaign in China to combat verbal abuse towards children.

The Problem

How would you feel if someone said the following to you?


“You’re garbage!”

“You’re a disgrace!

“Go away and die!”

Now imagine you are a child hearing these hurtful words from your parents or elders – how would you feel then?

In China, verbal abuse is more common than many realize – and may be contributing to the rising number of juvenile court hearings despite an overall decrease in the youth population. According to the Center for Psychological Research in Shenyang, China, which performed research on the issue, childhood verbal abuse using phrases such as “you’re good for nothing” and “moron” is highly linked to violence later in life.

To combat this trend and raise awareness of the psychological effects of verbal abuse, the Center for Psychological Research, Shenyang partnered with Ogilvy & Mather Beijing to develop a creative campaign that included an innovative social media element.

The Campaign

Entitled “Words Can Be Weapons“, the campaign tells the backstories of six juvenile offenders who experienced verbal abuse as children and are now serving time for serious crimes like murder and assault. Renowned artist Yong Xie from Shenyang took the hurtful phrases that spurred their actions and handcrafted them out of nickel-plated steel in such a way that they could be reassembled into the shapes of lethal weapons like a gun, a knife and an axe –the same weapons that the teens used to commit their crimes.

kid weapons     weapons

The steel characters were showcased at an interactive exhibition in a popular shopping center in Shenyang. More than 600 people interacted with the characters while touchscreens invited them to view a microsite showcasing the stories from the juvenile offenders. Information on a helpline connecting people to professional counselors was also available and saw 300 callers in just two weeks.

Using the momentum from the event, Social@Ogilvy Beijing took the campaign online through two popular platforms – WeChat and Sina Weibo. The two social media platforms served different but complementary purposes.

The campaign WeChat account served as an easy-access “hotline” for teens to reach out to professional counselors for advice and support. Since verbal abuse is such a sensitive topic in China, WeChat worked especially well as a place for private, one-to-one conversations. It became an easy, free, and accessible solution for those who found themselves in an abusive situation.

Meanwhile, through Sina Weibo, which allows users and brands to share more publicly, Social@Ogilvy Beijing could promote the campaign and amplify its message to a broader audience. Youth KOLS and editors from parenting media were invited to share information, links to the campaign microsite, and a campaign hashtag. In just one month, their involvement generated over 310,000 media impressions and thousands of others took up the cause, advocating for an end to verbal childhood abuse.

The unique characteristics of the social media platforms as well as the nature of the message itself drove the strategy, providing two ways to solve the problem posed by the campaign. Through promotion on Sina Weibo and private counseling on WeChat O&M Beijing, Social@Ogilvy Beijing, and the Center for Psychological Research in Shenyang helped raise awareness of verbal childhood abuse and maybe gave those affected by it a way to find an outlet through dialogue rather than through acts of violence.


Campaign credits

Project Title: “Words can be Weapons”
Client:  Center for Psychological Research, Shenyang
Creative Agency: Ogilvy & Mather, Beijing
Creative Directors: Graham Fink, Juggi Ramakrishnan, Wilson Chow, Doug Schiff, Xingsheng Qi
Designers: Yong Xie, Xingsheng Qi, Soonguan Poh
Copywriters: GuiLin Bo, Juggi Ramakrishnan, Wilson Chow, Chuyu Li
Art Directors: Xingsheng Qi, Xiaodong Xiao, Lei Fu, Kaixin Li, Yong Xie, Fei Wang
Video Editor: Morris Ku
Creative Technologist: Eric Wu
Innovative Digital Planners/Producers: Rita Yang, Quetina Yang
Web Designers: Jason Wee, Didi Shao, Sisi Xing
Film Producer: Jing Li
Social Media Leads: Jeremy Webb, Bob Wang
Content and KOL Manager: Ben Xu
Platform Technical Support: Frank Chen
Outdoor Production Supervisor: Jinfeng Ding
3D Designers: Yu Guo, Xing Wan, Tongxue Wang, Wanqiu Lin
Animation Designer: Zheng Sun
Software Motion Designer: Lei Zhang
Music: Massive Music, Kaiser Sound Studio, Shanghai

The Living Brand As Artistic Patron

Art. The very definition of the term has been contested nearly as long as the concept itself. In the classical sense “Art” was the result of an artist creating something through their own conscious will without any other incentive to do so other than creating the work itself. While the purity of this concept is wonderfully idyllic—in practice great art is usually developed through a unique partnership between a cultural catalyst or patron and the person creating the work itself.

Great artistic patrons were larger than life—often defining the eras in which they lived. The early “cultured class” devised new ways to outdo one another by commissioning and acquiring gilded masses of raw earth and polychromatic canvases depicting their built universe in a “modern” manner, meant to evolve the way society viewed itself—as well as those that defined their ever-lasting image.

Fast forward to the early 20th century where great patrons still collected and commissioned notable works of art. Artists were superstars as ever-before, but their patrons shined just as bright in an equal light.

Consumer brands stepped in to underwrite early television programs, lending credibility to their products and seeking to project a brand-centric halo over a exciting and nascent medium. Brands themselves even turned into great museums—places like the General Electric and PepsiCo campuses in upstate New York contain art collections that rival many established institutions.

In our modern world that increasingly values unique and memorable visual moments more pressure than ever is on a brand to inspire, package and redefine the way they communicate.

Brands must enter the era of true artistic co-creation. They need to be comfortable allowing talented and symbiotic members of the artistic community to briefly become the brand in voice and image. In this new era the artist becomes an integral part of an ever-evolving and active brand voice.

Using this model, we imagined a lucid and borderline-halcyon universe where great eras in the history of the Lincoln brand were stylized and made relevant for a new generation of dreamers experience and make their own.

The most captivating way to get this message across to the right audience was to adopt the use of Cinemagraphs as the centerpiece of a recent campaign for Lincoln. Cinemagraphs were the perfect solution to capture a single moment in time but allow for each moment to truly “breathe.”

The social capital inherent in our Cinemagraphs had everything to do with the people involved in the co-creation and execution of the idea. Jamie Beck, Kevin Burg and Kelly Framel were brought in to not only refine the emotional elements of the final images but also offer insight into the specific social following they have that celebrate and elevate the perfectly-tailored elements of each Cinemagraph.

We wanted to ensure we showcased the raw emotions involved in not only spotting a classic Lincoln, but the dreams of those that drove them everyday. The beat poet who rediscovered a hand-me-down 1953 Lincoln Capri Convertible parked in an alley challenging convention. The lawyer who, while driving down the Taconic Parkway in a 1963 Lincoln Continental wanted nothing more than to  pull over in a field of dreams instead of the parking garage of their office tower in midtown Manhattan.

We captured specific emotions and had the end result live out on social channels that align with different parts of the way our target dreams and socializes. Each communication platform requires a different approach to maximize the amount of an emotional connections between the type of content and the personality of the viewer.

While the fully-animated Cinemagraphs lived on tumblr, a suite of other collateral lived on Facebook and Instagram. The still imagery on those platforms were artifacts from different portions of our original photo shoot and were designed to allow for a unique angle of discovery depending on where potential viewers came into our brand ecosystem.

The program was a smashing success. With over 16MM+ impressions on the larger social web, 2.4MM+ impressions alone on Instagram and 121K+ active interactions over the duration of the campaign on visual social mediums, we set a new social interaction benchmark for the brand.

By challenging convention and positioning Lincoln as a brand in evolution, a celebrated patron that intrinsically understands the tactile elements of a modern consumer, both in thought and in physicality, a new generation of culturally aware creators again have an amplified voice.