Fighting Crime With Creativity

By Published on .

Joe Berkeley
Joe Berkeley

The only thing that's more fun than making good advertising is making a difference with good advertising. Like a lot of people at Interpublic Group of Cos.' Hill Holliday, I was born and raised in Boston. So when I take on a local cause I believe in, I like to stick with it for more than just one campaign.

In 2007, violent crime in Boston was rising while trust between the police and residents was crumbling. Whenever a murder happened, the police would go to investigate and witnesses refused to talk to the cops because of fear of reprisal. A code of silence was helping criminals get away with murder.

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis wanted fresh ideas for reducing violent crime, but they didn't turn to a criminologist or a think tank. They called Hill Holliday.

At our first meeting, the commissioner told us that while no one would talk to the cops at the crime scenes, everyone was constantly texting their friends. The commissioner challenged us to use new technology to tap into that behavior.

That's when the idea hit us. What if we invented an anonymous text-a-tip program? Residents could provide the police with information without having to reveal their identities. The commissioner and the mayor gave us the green light.

A campaign that included police cruisers spread the message.
A campaign that included police cruisers spread the message.

Together with a trusted mobile vendor, we wrote, designed and built the first anonymous text-a-tip program in the country and launched it three months later. To spread the word, we developed a campaign to encourage people to participate. Radio was an efficient way to spread the word. Boston police cruisers were part of the media buy.

The police received hundreds of new tips, which helped solve crimes. In the process, text-a-tip proved to be 100% anonymous. That's critical. If one tipster's identity had been revealed, the whole program would have fallen apart.

Research for the summer 2010 campaign began the previous winter. One of our account planners went into the neighborhoods and spoke with members of the community, gang members and police veterans. The strategy that emerged was to remind people of text-a-tip and to create opportunities for the cops to build trust with residents, especially kids.

We explored a pile of concepts. The idea that rose to the top was a mashup of an ice cream truck and a police cruiser. The commissioner, who loved the idea, recruited another Boston-area company, HP Hood, to be our partner. It donated the ice cream truck and thousands of Hoodsies, the iconic, 3-ounce, vanilla-chocolate frozen cup of goodness that's recognizable to local kids of all ages.

Our designers burned the midnight oil to create a vehicle that was half ice cream truck, half police cruiser. On hot summer days, when crime traditionally spiked, Operation Hoodsie Cup rolled into at-risk neighborhoods heavily armed with fun graphics, free ice cream and friendly uniformed police officers. Custom napkins asked residents to "Have a Hoodsie with me," and the copy reminded them to text-a-tip anonymously. Boston kids were jumping-up-and-down excited, and cops with 25 years on the job were fighting over who got to be on the truck.

Images in bus shelters reinforce the idea of anonymity.
Images in bus shelters reinforce the idea of anonymity.

For our third Crime Stoppers effort in 2011, we wanted to demonstrate that the program had momentum. People all over Boston were participating. The work features portraits of community members with pixilated faces. Each concept highlights a different message that reinforces the 100%-anonymous aspect of Crime Stoppers and pays it off with the call to action. A Web-based concept brings the idea to life by allowing viewers to see just how anonymous they will be.

To make it happen, we needed a new partner, and AT&T Inc. joined the team at just the right moment. It donated $85,000 to support the work and help cover the annual cost of keeping the anonymous text-a-tip line up and running. Another partner that knows something about teamwork, the Red Sox, gave us free media space to run this spot on its JumboTron before the game.

According to Commissioner Davis, our work for Crime Stoppers has generated almost 4,000 tips, reduced crime and helped to solve cases. I am immensely proud of the fact that my agency answered the call and stuck with the cause for the past four years and counting.

One person and one agency can make a difference. But by collaborating with a group of partners -- including a mobile messaging company, an ice cream company, a telecommunications company and one of Boston's most beloved sports teams, we were able to make a much greater impact. It was a great honor to work with such a diverse group of partners that wanted to give back to the communities that make their success possible.

Joe Berkeley is group creative director of Hill Holliday, Boston.
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