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Simões, E.; Nogueira, E.; Sani, A.I. Institutional and Commercial Advertising Campaigns Against Domestic Violence. Encyclopedia. Available online: (accessed on 20 June 2024).
Simões E, Nogueira E, Sani AI. Institutional and Commercial Advertising Campaigns Against Domestic Violence. Encyclopedia. Available at: Accessed June 20, 2024.
Simões, Elsa, Elayne Nogueira, Ana Isabel Sani. "Institutional and Commercial Advertising Campaigns Against Domestic Violence" Encyclopedia, (accessed June 20, 2024).
Simões, E., Nogueira, E., & Sani, A.I. (2023, November 16). Institutional and Commercial Advertising Campaigns Against Domestic Violence. In Encyclopedia.
Simões, Elsa, et al. "Institutional and Commercial Advertising Campaigns Against Domestic Violence." Encyclopedia. Web. 16 November, 2023.
Institutional and Commercial Advertising Campaigns Against Domestic Violence

Advertising campaigns which combat domestic violence often emphasize emotional impact, while focussing on victim-centric approaches, underscoring the need to empower victims. However, it is paramount to consider the different social and cultural contexts associated with the phenomenon of domestic violence in these campaigns for effective social change, eventually addressing other targets apart from the victim or incorporating the victims’ insights in the advertising campaigns.

advertising campaigns domestic violence victimization

1. Advertising Campaigns with Social Concerns

Campaigns aimed at providing information or raising awareness about social problems are not usually the first to spring to mind when we think of advertising. However, they are increasingly more present, drawing our attention to matters which threaten the very cornerstones of our lives in society [1][2][3]. Although their purposes are different (commercial advertising cajoles us into acquiring something, whereas institutional campaigns try to make us avoid pernicious behaviours or make us engage in positive ones), they both need to alter the status quo [4]. This means that to be successful ads have to make an impression by impacting our feelings. To do that, both commercial and institutional advertising (for this article, understood as “advertising with social concerns”) will resort to the same kind of appeals and strategies. Embracing social causes is a part of the hierarchy of needs described by Maslow, and it becomes an objective after the basic human needs have been addressed [1][3][5]. The existence of more public service campaigns may also have led professionals to fully understand the power of persuasion they can have via advertising, using ads as a form of personal achievement, either for the satisfaction of inspiring other people or for moral satisfaction, to feel closer to social causes: “Advertising for social causes acts as a sounding board for feelings of injustice and disrespect for human rights”[1].
The content in advertising messages is painstakingly aimed at specific groups of people, with the use of strategies such as verbal and visual metaphors, intertextual or taboo references, music, and humour, which require a specific cultural background to be adequately grasped. For instance, some humorous expressions and puns will only make sense in the language they were produced. Likewise, the beliefs and attitudes of a given target audience will influence the way a message is understood. Different cultural groups can be reached differently with the same advertising message. Therefore, it is paramount to define the target audience and their cultural and social encyclopedic references during the preparation stage of the public service campaign and to study the behaviour that the campaign intends to influence. In that way, it can be channelled towards changing attitudes and beliefs related to the problem at stake [4][5]. Thus, this kind of campaign needs to be able to resort to a team of people who possess the appropriate theoretical knowledge about the social problem they plan to highlight. Public service campaigns related to problems such as domestic violence should be designed by a creative team that is knowledgeable about the phenomenon and fully aware that the problem is deeply rooted in cultural practices and narratives that must be deconstructed [6][7][8][9][10][11].

2. Institutional Advertising and Domestic Violence

The institutional bodies which fight domestic violence and work towards the development of research in this area emphasize the importance of producing campaigns aimed at the entire population [12][13][14]. However, studies on the production of institutional advertising campaigns in the fight against domestic violence in Portugal show that most campaigns produced in this country are aimed at the victim [15][16]. In addition, the authors point out contradictions or ambiguities in the messages and the definition of the target audience, such as campaigns that contain messages aimed at the aggressor but, in the same message, also present appeals to people to denounce the situation, making it unclear who they are addressing, in fact [15][16].
An exploratory study on the production of advertising campaigns to combat domestic violence in Portugal showed that, although many non-governmental entities broadcast advertising campaigns on the phenomenon, most campaigns are produced by two government bodies, CIG— Comissão para a Cidadania e Igualdade de Género and GNR— Guarda Nacional Republicana (police body), as well as a non-governmental body, APAV— Associação Portuguesa de Apoio à Vítima [15][17]. In this study, 53 sets of institutional advertising campaigns produced by these entities and 6 campaigns produced by other commercial companies, such as Vodafone, Avon, Meo and Fox Portugal (the latter currently owned by Disney) were found. Among the 53 institutional campaigns that were found, 30 were targeted at victims, and among the 6 produced by commercial companies, 4 were aimed at victims. Another study, which was carried out based on this exploratory study, focused on analysing seven institutional campaigns. These specific entities were chosen due to the representativeness of the strategies found in the universe of institutional advertising campaigns to combat domestic violence in Portugal [16]. Of the seven campaigns analysed, only one had an appeal to raise awareness among the entire population, with a deconstruction of popular sayings on the issue of marital relationships. Two of the campaigns, which contained appeals aimed at victims, displayed striking photos representing women who had suffered serious physical violence. This shock approach was considered by the authors of this study as a strategy to obtain emotional effects. Another campaign, also aimed at the victims, used a metaphor as a strategy, and although it did not display a graphic depiction of bruises, it also aimed to produce emotional effects on the audience. However, although there is evidence that emotional narratives can influence and affect the intention to change behaviour, the emotion aroused in the audience may not exactly match the emotion presented in the message, as emotions have many possible nuances and are affected by different variables [18]. Additionally, social problem awareness campaigns may have unintended effects such as guilt, shame or even isolation [19][20]. Stimuli presented in an advertising campaign can also trigger emotional responses, regardless of conscious reflection on the topic, and emotional involvement with a topic such as domestic violence can trigger an acceptance or rejection of advertising messages [21]. Therefore, the authors questioned whether these campaigns could have triggered feelings of guilt or shame in people who had already experienced victimization for not having reported the situation [22][23]. The phenomenon of domestic violence has already been extensively studied, focusing on the personal and psychological characteristics of victims and aggressors [6][8][23][24]. In these studies, in general, women who are victims of violence are described with an emphasis on their psychological processes [25][26][27]. Sometimes, the victim is characterized as someone who surrenders to a violent situation or as a person with a negative perception of her abilities [28][29]. Many aspects can contribute to the decision to stay in an abusive relationship or leave it, including factors that are extrinsic to the relationship (such as issues related to their offspring, their aggressor or social context), which favour the construction of myths that can prevent the interruption of the violence cycle [30]. It is the consideration of all these factors that must support any mobilization to combat domestic violence.
However, the tendency to characterize victims of domestic violence as belonging to a class of vulnerable subjects and relegating them to the post-incident “victim” status has been challenged by feminist scholars [31][32][33]. The permanent characterization of this person as a “victim” is pointed out as a patronizing form of diminishing the subject [32]; an alternative stance is that of giving voice to these “moral agents” [33], who can speak with authority on domestic violence [17][31][33]. also refute this deterministic idea, which does nothing to empower victims or reinforce the social response to the problem of domestic violence. The authors concluded that people who identified themselves as victims had fewer beliefs that legitimize domestic violence than people who did not declare themselves as victims, thus considering the possibility that the victimization experience had positively impacted the deconstruction of beliefs. From this assumption, the importance of the voices of “experiential experts” can be highlighted: this would mean that victims of domestic violence could be heard by society (other victims included) via campaigns or any other means. In that way, they would be able to encourage the denouncement and/or the request for help [8][12][13][14].
The psychological processes of aggressors were also studied, described and classified based on the aggressions committed. If the aggressions described are verbal or psychological and there are no other complaints of violence, the classification used is “typical aggressor”. However, if physical aggression or serious psychological aggression is committed, the aggressors are described as psychopaths or sociopaths [22][34]. The psychological processes involved in the phenomenon of domestic violence are important for understanding the experience of the people involved in a given situation. However, if we understand the phenomenon as being deeply rooted in cultural practices, we realize that victims and aggressors are people who live in a society bearing a narrative that normalizes domestic violence within the context of interpersonal relationships. From this perspective, we have subjects involved in a social system that needs to be problematized [8][23][29][35][36][37].
Thinking about the social transformation related to the phenomenon of domestic violence involves listening to victims who had their “voices” silenced, either because they never denounced the situation or they did so, but to no avail [8]. Additionally, as pointed out by [35][36] and , it involves listening to aggressors as well. The personal and individual experience of those involved needs to be addressed from the standpoint of their social realities, which contribute to the formation of the socio-cultural system. This discussion emphasizes the fact that social transformation can contribute to individual change [8].
In the field of advertising and consumer behaviour, qualitative research is commonly carried out with target groups of campaigns for the development of new products, new forms of advertising messages, consumer habits and service expectations [38]. Accordingly, we tried to find out what people who self-identified as victims of domestic violence think about the contributions of advertising in the fight against the problem of domestic violence. Studies have already been carried out on people’s reactions to domestic violence campaigns, to investigate which domestic violence campaigns increased the likelihood of denouncing behaviour, with experimental and quasi-experimental designs [19][20][39][40][41]. The narrative appeal of domestic violence situations was found to increase the likelihood of reporting the situation [40][41]. In addition, narrative appeals containing feelings of guilt or shame may also have a greater effect on the reporting attitude. [19][39][20] carried out a study with questionnaires on denouncement attitudes before and after exposure to institutional advertising campaigns. The results showed that the exposed group of men did not alter their answers to the questionnaires, which was discussed as an unintentional effect since most campaigns represent men as the aggressor party. A qualitative study of interviews and focus groups stemming from this investigation pointed to reports of injustice in the majority representation of men as perpetrators of domestic violence[20].
An anthropological study was also found on the reactions of people at train and bus stations to domestic violence campaigns [42], using the tool of ethnography within the field of anthropological studies: two domestic violence posters were displayed on train stations, buses and public bathrooms. In one of them, a woman was shown looking sad and confused with her hands on her head and the blurred image of a man loomed over her. The other poster displayed a split photo of a female face with bruises on one of its halves. Some of the participants thought the first poster was about depressive states. Other respondents expressed disagreement with the approach adopted because these campaigns focused on men as perpetrators of domestic violence; however, men could also be victims. Some women who claimed to have been victims of domestic violence stated that domestic violence, as a cultural phenomenon by nature, was also the responsibility of women, who advise against reporting it out of shame.
These studies provide added confirmation to our early assumption that the approaches in advertising campaigns against domestic violence would benefit from a more inclusive focus on the spectrum of possible target audiences for their appeals, rather than focusing solely on the victim. The self-identified victims of domestic violence could also provide valuable insights on the best approaches to be adopted in these campaigns, for maximal impact on populations, instead of relying on a one-size-fits-all perspective which could be hindering full understanding of this complex and most pressing phenomenon. 


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