The Ministry of Family and Population hopes TV ad campaigns can help combat domestic violence and drug use By Randa El Tahawy
group of young men are sitting in a car, as smoke wafts around them.We got high and cruised in the car, says a young man’s voice.As time and people pass the car by, the young man’s voice muses about how nothing will change, he and his friends will never meet anybody, win any games or build their lives. The car door opens, the young man steps out and decides to choose his life over his drug-dependent friends. That scene, one of several public service advertisements (PSAs) sponsored by the Ministry of Family and Population (MFP), has become increasing familiar to viewers of state-run TV channels. While television PSA campaigns are not new, government agencies have become more active in promoting public welfare on the small screen. The MFP has two campaigns running since Ramadan 2010, one targeting domestic violence and the other trying to prevent drug abuse. Choose Your Life Both campaigns are produced by Bates Equity Advertising Agency, which also worked with the PSA campaign for the 20th anniversary of First Lady Suzanne Mubarak’s Reading for All initiative in 2007. For the 2010 campaigns, Bates Equity Managing Director Azza El Bayyar says they chose to approach the issues in a manner that was different than the usual. Most of the previous campaigns have been characterized by being too dry and too patronizing, El-Bayyar explains. We wanted to be friendly, [have] a very positive note and talk a consumer language.The five ads in the Choose Your Life campaign focus on preventing drug abuse, rather than targeting those who already have a drug addiction problem. In two of the ads, young boys are shown consuming drugs in groups and alone in their rooms as time slips away from them. Another of the ads shows parents how to detect the signs that their children may be using drugs and how to deal with it. The other two ads address drug use by adults: one shows drug use at a traditional wedding and another shows how drug use by truck drivers affects road safety. Each ad ends with the MFP drug abuse helpline number 16023 appearing on the screen.We are basically targeting youth, explains Minister of Family and Population Moushira Khattab. We are encouraging protection and prevention, rather than remedy. We want to stop young people from starting to use drugs this is our big priority to dissuade them from using drugs. The drug abuse prevention campaign was developed with input from young people, many of whom are actively involved in the issue. Khattab says that her ministry has 18,000 volunteers who are currently working on raising awareness and other advocacy issues. Now through the campaign, everybody knows the helpline number,the minister says. The number [of calls] is huge, [and] the team of the helpline is working 24 hours a day, said Khattab. Khattab told local media during a speech in January that the drug addiction hotline had received 32,000 calls, four times the number of calls received in 2009. In addition to government support from the Ministry of Family and Population, the Fund for Drug Control and the Fund for Youth and Sports, the five-year Choose Your Life campaign is sponsored by the local private equity firm Citadel Capital. The corporate sponsorship reflects a different approach to the usual trend of corporate social responsibility (CSR). El-Bayyar notes that in Egypt, CSR usually takes the form of money donations rather than improving behavioral communication and public awareness. Use Your Mouth, Not Your Fists The theme of the anti-domestic violence campaign With Communication, We Will Solve it could just as well sum up the MFP’s approach to public service campaigns. We were mainly concerned about the level of domestic violence in Egyptian society, Khattab says. I think this is the most alarming form because it is something that people don’t talk about. They consider it personal and no one should touch anything that has to do with the family. In one ad, a couple decides to go through mediation to talk through their problems, rather than resorting to violence. Another ad shows a little boy overwhelmed by his parents constantly yelling at him so he decides to run away. The third looks at the cycle of violence and how parents violent behavior reflects on the children, leading them to act violently. Each ad ends with the MFP’s free helpline number 16000 appearing for people to report incidents of domestic violence and get consultation about their legal options. Khattab says that the television campaign against domestic violence is part of the ministry’s Family Justice program, which helps families mediate their problems before they end up in Family Court. The program also focuses on empowering NGOs to provide more solutions for families dealing with domestic violence. Funded entirely by the MFP, the PSA campaign is due to air for a couple more months this year. It’s future is uncertain, however, as Khattab says there may not be enough funds to continue it. The ads were designed based on actual calls to the domestic abuse hotline, as well as on focus groups held by a team of professionals to understand the issue. For both the ministry and the ad agency, the campaign was a success in enabling people to talk about their issues. El Bayyar says that the response to the TV ads was unexpected, with very positive feedback. The [hotline] calls were incredible. During our focus groups, some of the women were very touched by the ads that were depicting their lives. I wasn’t expecting people to call and report domestic violence. I wasn’t expecting people to be ready to talk about abuse from a husband or a father. Obviously people are becoming more aware and they needed the help. Minister of Family and Population Moushira Khattab wants to get people talking about domestic violence. Changing Public Perception Both campaigns are trying to change people’s perception and attitudes towards the issues, hoping that the message gets through. While analysts disagree how much change a PSA can make, they do believe that these campaigns could be effective at least to get the public talking about the issues.Dr. Said Sadek, a political sociology professor at the American University in Cairo (AUC), credits the campaigns for reaching the right audience.The domestic channels are being watched by the targeted group, the [lower] classes, who suffer from drugs and domestic violence more than other classes, he says.AUC Sociology Professor Madiha El Safty thinks the increase in public service campaigns reflects a realization of the problems in the country. Their success lies in how they could relate to people and talk to them in a language that they can understand, using a culturally appropriate approach. It is an eye opener definitely for some people that this is a problem you have to be aware [of], El Safty says It is a wake up call. However, Sadek notes that PSA campaigns are not by themselves the solution; change requires more effort from society as whole. If [people] realize that their interest would be served more by modifying their behavior, they would change it, he explains. The matter does not rest on media campaigns alone, you need also to influence the education, the family, the religious establishment discourse and the justice system. El Safty points out that there needs to be an understanding that these issues are really of a high priority. Khattab says the ministry’s goals are to change people’s perceptions and help them understand that some behaviors are wrong.We have certain practices in our culture that we do without thinking, and we need to look inside ourselves, the minister says. Such campaigns are important in correcting certain harmful practices.There is also an element of education to the campaign, with Khattab noting that many people do not know their rights and cannot fight for them; many of us are illiterate when it comes to legal education.El-Bayyar is confident that done properly, PSA campaigns can be quite successful.The Egyptian society is ready for these kinds of campaigns but with a certain [tone], she says. What appeals to people is not the preaching but a slice of life that shows reality and that is very si
mple.The ad agency executive says that the growing acceptance of PSA campaigns is as important as the campaigns themselves, noting that until recently, No one had the thinking that there are issues in the society that we need to address issues that are of vital importance.
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