No Words: Boosted by NFL Controversy, Anti-Abuse Group Readies New Ads

Unscripted Ads Use Emotional Outtakes From Shoots; Will Super Bowl Follow?

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No More, the group formed last year to combat domestic violence and sexual assault, has won far greater prominence thanks to widespread airings of its public service announcements during NFL broadcasts in the wake of the league's domestic-violence controversy. Now, it's breaking a new wave of PSAs using unscripted outtakes from shoots for the original ads and showing athletes and other celebrities rendered speechless or on the verge of tears.

The initial ads in the "Anthem" campaign began airing earlier this year and have been on every NFL broadcast since Oct. 23. The campaign already has gotten more than a billion impressions and participation from more than 80 celebrities, making it one of the biggest PSA efforts ever.

The new round of largely silent "Speechless" ads was previewed on the NFL's Thanksgiving broadcasts and will get regular rotation starting Dec. 10 and 12 with airings on NBC and USA Network respectively, followed by another round of ads created specifically by and for Viacom, which owns MTV, VH1, BET, TV Land and Spike. Those ads will be shown widely on Dec. 15 on Viacom networks and feature celebrities from the networks' programs. They'll also run on NFL broadcasts.

"Domestic violence and sexual assault are hard subjects for everyone to talk about," reads the text of the new ads. "Help us start the conversation."

The NFL effect
Prior ads already have increased visits to NoMore.org more than sixfold since they began airing on NFL games and necessitated an increase in the group's server capacity, said Virginia Witt, director and co-founder of NoMore.org. They've also prompted messages from victims saying they've led to them leaving abusive boyfriends or spouses.

Chelsea Weston, a 23-year-old survivor of a nine-month abusive relationship with a college boyfriend, said she's been impressed by the ads, and particularly the "Speechless" inaugural ad that aired on Thanksgiving. "I thought it said a lot about the cause and how important it is to really talk to people about how it can affect anyone," she said.

Rachel Howald, chief creative officer of Y&R's Team BAC, who led the creative effort, said the idea was always to go beyond talking about victims of abuse. "This is saying to everyone else this is all of our problem," she said.

She's on the board of the Joyful Heart Foundation, whose founder Mariska Hargitay joined Blair Underwood and Tate Donovan in directing the shoots and recruiting the talent. "We specifically wrote a campaign that could accommodate as many famous faces as possible," Ms. Howald said.

'Sad and difficult' catalyst
Shooting began in March 2013, and airing started in May of this year, before the NFL domestic-abuse issue blew up in September. So the group already had plenty of spots when Troy Vincent, exec VP of NFL Football Operations and an active supporter of No More years before the controversy erupted, approached the group about airing the spots, Ms. Witt said.

Once the original ads started running in games, NFL players came forward to participate in newer ads.

"It was a sad and difficult event, but it was a catalyst," Ms. Witt said of the NFL abuse controversy. "It was one of several," she said, including publicity about sexual assault in the military and on college campuses.

All the new "Speechless" spots were unscripted, Ms. Howald said. "The very first person on the very first shoot day had a completely emotional response, and then that just continued," she said. "As I was watching this happen, I called the editor and asked can we cut these together and put these supers on the end, because I thought there was something really powerful there."

"We just let the camera run during the shoot. We let people take their time, gather themselves, and then come back," Ms. Hargitay said in an e-mail, noting that the team did shoots with 50 people on the first day. "We have said often that these issues are hard to talk about, and this was such a clear, raw, unvarnished demonstration of that truth."

Will NFL support continue through the playoffs and on the Super Bowl, where the league has several slots? "We're kind of going month to month," Ms. Witt said. "But, yes, they're very committed to this, and they've indicated that to us."

Besides the original ads and new "Speechless" work, Ms. Howald said, "There's another phase that has not seen the light of day yet."

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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story said ad for No More were running across all Viacom-owned networks. That has not been confirmed.

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