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How O&M Beijing Turned Words Into Weapons To Prevent Child Abuse

Ogilvy & Mather worked with artist and professor Yong Xie to create the word-weapons

Shockingly tragic acts of youth violence are on the rise in China. In recent years, the number of juvenile criminals sentenced by courts more than doubled even when the population of youth was dropping. An even lesser known finding is that in China, childhood verbal abuse has a strong link to adolescent delinquency.

The Center for Psychological Research, Shenyang and Ogilvy & Mather, Beijing (“O&M”) have joined hands to launch a creative campaign, including an interactive site, that raises Chinese public awareness of the serious and detrimental effects of verbal abuse.

“Verbal abuse is a kind of emotional abuse that is learned behavior. Unless the cycle is broken, the lasting effects can extend into adulthood and the abuse will likely be passed on from one generation to the next,” said Dr. Jun He Jiang, Director, Center for Psychological Research, Shenyang.

In China, verbal child abuse is a taboo topic that is not widely discussed nor easily detected. To help Chinese parents and guardians see the real-life, destructive consequences of verbal abuse, O&M told the backstories of six juvenile offenders in Shenyang Detention Center, who are serving time for serious crimes like murder and assault. Each teen spoke candidly about the scarring words that their parents and caretakers said to them as children, including ‘Moron’, ‘You’re good for nothing’, and ‘Go away and die.” 

O&M worked with renowned artist and professor Yong Xie from Shenyang to handcraft those hurtful words out of hard nickel-plated steel. The words are crafted in such a way that they can 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. The work demonstrates how abusive words can actually become weapons.

The word-weapons were showcased at an interactive exhibition in a highly-trafficked shopping center in Shenyang. Shoppers and passersby interacted with the word-weapons and engaged through touch screens and tablets on-site. More than 600 people participated in the two-day event. The O&M team also created a microsite for the unique cause. Visitors can see and experience the words transforming into weapons online, watch videos of each delinquent tell their story, as well as contact professional counselors through the website to talk about emotional and verbal abuse. The results are profound. More than 300 calls were made to the helpline within the first two weeks of the website’s launch.

To spread the message even further, Social@Ogilvy Beijing reached out to social media influencers, such as youth and parenting media editors, through Sina Weibo – generating more than 310,000 impressions within the first month. More importantly, the Social@Ogilvy set up an official WeChat account that serves as a hotline for teens in China to reach out anonymously for professional counseling.

More than 30 websites (including Chinese government official websites) carried reports of the project -adding to a total reach of 3.2 million people and counting. Juggi Ramakrishnan, Executive Creative Director of Ogilvy & Mather Advertising, Beijing, said, “What we know from talking to the Center’s psychologists is that verbal abuse of children is like setting off a time bomb. It explodes only much later, long after the original perpetrator has left the scene. And it is society that pays the price, as is evident from the rising rate of juvenile crime. We really needed to tell this ‘cycle-of-violence’ story in a way that will make people sit up and take notice.”


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, Jason Wang

Copywriters: GuiLin Bo, Chuyu Li, Juggi Ramakrishnan, Wilson Chow

Art Directors: Xingsheng Qi, Xiaodong Xiao, Lei Fu, Kaixin Li, Yong Xie, Fei Wang

Video Editor: Morris Ku

Creative Technologists: Eric Wu, Rita Yang, Quentina Yang

Web Designer: Jason Wee

Film Producer: Jing Li

Social Media Leads: Jeremy Webb, Bob Wang

Content and KOL Manager: Ben Xu

Platform Technical Support: Frank Chen

Exposure: Digital, offline event, social media, outdoor

Music Producers: Massive Music, Shanghai.