This chilling 'smartphone ad' reveals a message about domestic abuse

Campaign from Refuge shows how today's technology can be manipulated by abusers

Published On
Nov 16, 2021

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The technology on smartphones puts the world at your fingertips—it enables you to control devices in your home, track the whereabouts of your family or pets and store tons of content videos. All of which is music to the ears of domestic abusers. 

That's the message of this chilling campaign from Refuge, the domestic abuse charity, and agency BBH. It poses as an ad for a new smartphone. At first glance, it's just your typical slick and glossy device promo, the camera lingering over the phone as a voiceover smoothly describes its features, but then things take a more sinister turn. 

Maps in real time, we are told, can “keep you up to date with traffic in your area… and her movements.” Smart home features can be used to adjust the heating and lights “even when you’re not at home, so you can control her from wherever you are."

"Manipulating her has never been easier," the voiceover brags. The spot ends with the words on screen: "Domestic abuse is getting smarter. So our job is getting bigger."

Refuge launched the campaign after it saw a 97% rise in "complex tech abuse cases" between April 2020 and May 2021. According to its research, two in five women say that a partner or family member knows the password to their personal devices, with 28% of these women reporting that they did not give the password out willingly.

“The rise of tech and smart products are of major concern to Refuge," said Refuge Chief Executive Officer Ruth Davison in a statement. "While it is a massive enabler in our lives, for women experiencing domestic abuse it is an ever-growing tool used to create fear, harass, intimidate and control them. Refuge is dealing with these complex issues head-on. It is our job to ensure we support women and meet their needs in a climate where abuse is becoming easier and more complex and ensure that women are not forced offline or to abandon their tech devices but instead are empowered to use tech safely and confidently. But we can't achieve this on our own. We need support from the public and our funders more than ever before—women's lives depend on it.”

The campaign also includes radio and out-of-home ads, with billboards that also look like tech ads, featuring lines such as “Watch for your deliveries. Watch her every move.”

A social media component taps influencers to post Instagram Stories with content showing just how far abusers will go to monitor their partners, from checking bank statements to tracking their movements outside the home. At the end of the takeover, the influencers will reveal that Refuge is behind the posts.


Nov 16, 2021
Client :
Agency :
BBH Creative Team :
Jennifer Ashton
BBH Creative Team :
Oliver Short
BBH Creative Director :
Kimberley Gill
BBH Chief Creative Officer :
Joakim Borgstrom
Helen Rhodes
BBH Strategy Director :
Lucy Moody
BBH Business Lead :
Karen Martin
BBH Account Manager :
Phoebe Kennedy
BBH Account Manager :
Caitlin Quigley
BBH Account Director :
Bella Bertolotti
BBH Account Executive :
Zimini Fongho
BBH Producer :
Jemima Bowers
Direction :
Optical Arts
Executive Producer/Producer :
Hannah May
Design, Editing, CG Animation, Colour Grading & Post Production :
Optical Arts
Mastering and Titles :
Electric Theatre Collective
Sound :
Markus Ffitch
Sound :
Grand Central Studios
Music Composition :
Markus Ffitch
BBH Producer :
Lauren Daniels
Design and Creation :
Optical Arts
Design :
Josh Bailey
Design :
Rob Wilson

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