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Why the Mayor of London Wants Men to ‘Have a Word’ with Themselves


The Ogilvy UK team on partnering with the Mayor of London to create a hard-hitting campaign that shines a light on inappropriate male behaviour, writes LBB’s Nisna Mahtani

Why the Mayor of London Wants Men to ‘Have a Word’ with Themselves

In the UK, one woman dies at the hands of a man every three days. Hearing that, it’s no surprise that the Mayor of London’s office partnered with Ogilvy UK to put a stop to the inappropriate, threatening and violent behaviour that has plagued Britain. The fully integrated campaign targets men “on their phones, at their football matches and in their toilets” as well as with campaign videos that highlight sexist attitudes and demand a change.

The main campaign video features a group of guys at a corner shop, joking, messing around and bantering with each other. As they step out, one of them spots a girl, sitting alone on a bench and waiting for her taxi. What happens next is something almost all women have faced – verbal onslaught, abusive words and a tense feeling of panic. As the protagonists' friends watch the way in which he speaks to the girl, one of them internalises and remembers, “Have a word with yourself, then your mates.” He stops his friend and lets the girl get away. The spot directed by Molly Burdett is an all too accurate representation of what could happen to any woman – and what every man should stop. 

Ogilvy UK’s creative directors Nicola Wood and Andy Forrest, and creative and strategy officer Charlie Coney tell LBB’s Nisna Mahtani about the shocking statistics and real need for change they channelled to create the campaign.

LBB> Can you tell us about some of the statistics and figures that prompted this campaign to be created?

Nicola & Andy> Obviously the most tragic statistic is one woman dies at the hands of a man every three days [in the UK]. But the fact that struck a cord creatively was that 74% of women think men aren't doing enough to help stop violence. This really stopped and made us think – women have had enough of men shirking responsibility and society needed us to shift the dial.

Charlie> I’ve got a young daughter and the statistics scare me. A man kills a woman every three days in the UK – and there’s hardly a woman in the country that hasn’t suffered some form of insult, abuse, or harassment from men in the street. As a man, it’s easy to say “oh that’s not me, I wouldn’t do something like that,” but we’ve ALL been there when it has happened -- and said and done nothing. How is that right?


LBB> How long did it take to create the script and how did you ensure it was an authentic portrayal of the verbal harassment that women face?

Nicola> In truth, time was crunched. The actual concept of the script happened in one afternoon. Andy and I always like to draw on human insight or real experiences and I talked to him about how intimidating a walk to the toilet in a bar can be for women. As a man, he couldn't believe that something so innocuous and uneventful to him could be such a contrast to me. I shared personal experience of what guys think is banter and it was clear to the both of us that we needed to hold a mirror up to blokes' behaviour – so we did just that. So much communication is aimed at women, this had to be different. We landed on the phrase "have a word" and put it with a reference to Ben Kingsley in ‘Sexy Beast’ having harsh words with himself.

Charlie> The script was used as a guide more than anything. The amazing director, Molly Burdett, wanted the cast to improvise and use their own experiences to make it feel real. Every man has seen this happen – sadly – and that’s why it feels so authentic and raw, because it’s based on what’s going on in every street, every day. Charlie, who plays the misogynist male, kept apologising to Lucy – our female lead – because he’d grown up around this type of behaviour and hated the reaction it was having.


LBB> What was the feeling you wanted to convey throughout the campaign and were there any specific ways in which you showcased this?

Nicola & Andy> We wanted this to feel real and authentic. Almost like a pilot for a drama. Our amazing executive producer shared with us a Women's Aid film by the young director Molly Burdett and said, "We need to get her on this". What a find! Molly and her team at Spindle presented the most incredible casting I think we have ever seen. Just from the self-tapes, we could get a sense of how unnerving and powerful our film could be.

Charlie> Way too many campaigns focus on what women need to do differently - take a different way home, wear something different, share your route… when the root problem isn’t what they wear, say or do – but men. We wanted to give men agency – give them an active role in stopping this happening, not just stand by when they see something they know is wrong. Using a mirror to show the lead ‘having a word’ with himself was the best way to dramatise that inner turmoil and struggle in getting the courage to do the right thing – brilliant thinking by Nicola, Andy and of course, [ECD] Jules Chalkley. 


LBB> Where was the piece shot and how did you find a location that would suit the London based campaign?

Nicola & Andy> We filmed the mirror scene in a studio and the rest was captured in and around a mini-mart somewhere between Stepney and Bethnal Green [in East London], one very cold evening. Molly wanted to find somewhere that had a late-night buzz about it where guys could spill out and realistically bump into a girl. The strip of light from the shop also added a beautifully cinematic quality to the film.

Charlie> Nicola and Andy had a conversation about how the walk to the toilets in a bar or pub for a woman can be very intimidating – something men are totally unaware of. Their first iteration was set in a pub, but we moved it onto the streets to make it appeal to a wider audience. That said, you could set this in a pub, an office, a school, a train or a park and it would still ring true – misogyny is all too pervasive. 


LBB> Of course, this was created with the Mayor of London, but how did you ensure that it was something that can be both viewed and acknowledged nationwide?

Nicola & Andy> Everything that happens in the script is 100% relatable. We knew if we made it authentic enough it would travel further than the boundaries of the city. In fact, it has even been re-dubbed by foreign media and shared globally. Why? Because every woman has dealt with a similar situation. Be it a different group of guys in a different location. Whether it's being called 'moody' or 'a slag'. And every guy has been that guy. Either the one delivering what they think is harmless banter or has been the bystander. From WhatsApp group chats to nights out. We kept it relatable and honest, not sticking religiously to the script but ad-libbing and improvising. 

Charlie> It’s touched a nerve because it’s so relatable – both for men and, sadly, way too many women. It’s very different to anything that’s been done before and that, combined with the bravery from the mayor’s team in pushing this through, is what made it so compelling.  Also, by launching it through earned channels we drove conversation and debate in a really authentic way – Marie Claire translated it into French themselves and ran it across their socials, and it’s been picked up as far away as Singapore and Australia.
We were asked to do something bold that would drive change – and hopefully, we’ve managed that.

LBB> “Have a word with yourself, then your mates” – can you talk us through the ideation of this phrase and how it reflects the message of the campaign?

Nicola> "Have a word" is a well-known idiom thrown around as banter. Just like misogynistic comments are thrown around like banter. As soon as we said it, Andy and I knew it was right. For a guy to take action he needs to first have a word with himself to question why he's standing by but then most importantly he needs to step in and have a word with his mates. A friend calling out a friend might just be the way to address this behaviour.

Charlie> We worked closely with our behavioural science team to work out how to get men to do things differently – and identified peer pressure as a key lever. Nicola and Andy developed a few different lines and we collaborated with the mayor’s team and the sector – and then held focus groups with men across London – to see what resonated best. We wanted everything we did to be rooted in the sad reality of what happens every day.


LBB> This turned from an earned media brief to a fully integrated campaign. Can you talk us through the process of how that transpired?

Nicola & Andy> When you have an idea as big as ‘Have a word’, you don't want to limit yourself. We wanted to get the message out there however we could. Talk to men on their phones, at their football matches and in their toilets. We wanted to confront them at every turn. And we have such a variety of capabilities at Ogilvy it's criminal not to use them. This was a real team effort between creative, PR, planning, behavioural science, design, simply the best production team from Hogarth and all championed by Jules, Dede [Andre Laurentino] and Charlie.

Charlie> If an idea works in earned it will always work in paid – so we were determined to weave earned first thinking throughout the process. We brought together planners and creatives from across PR, advertising and behavioural science to ensure we had as many touchpoints as possible – and the strength of the idea meant it was easy to see more ways of getting it out there. The brilliant partnership team at the mayor’s office suggested working with football clubs and using mirrors to extend the message – and that’s when other sports clubs got involved.


LBB> Were there any particularly memorable moments from the campaign’s creation that you can share with us?

Nicola & Andy> Andy and I watched the first edit and didn’t make any changes. That never happens. Then showing the client the first edit and them also not making a single change. That never happens either. Molly's film was incredible, we couldn't better it. We knew she'd created something powerful. So, with a day booked in the edit sweet no longer needed we all went and had some celebratory tapas together.

Charlie> This campaign launched on Monday [March 14th] with OOH, VOD and other paid support going live over the coming weeks and months. Already, we’ve heard schools are showing this in classrooms, students are debating the content – and that’s where we’ll hopefully see real change. We want to extend this to offices, gyms, other cities and other countries too – we’ve only just begun.


LBB> Do you have any final thoughts?

Nicola & Andy> Yeah. Every guy needs to have a word with himself, then his mates. 

Charlie> This is a campaign that deserves to be rolled out to every city across the UK and in capitals across the world and beyond. This is borderless creativity in motion. 

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Ogilvy UK, Fri, 25 Mar 2022 17:30:00 GMT