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A student take: AUT students tackle street harassment – part one

Last year, Women in Urbanism Aotearoa took our streets to social media in an enlightening Stop Street Harassment campaign. To help spread the word, the group called in the help of AUT advertising students to create their own version of the campaign. Here, Reuben Brooks and Grace Mitchell share their creation and thoughts on the advertising industry.

The creative brief tasked students with solving the problem of street or public harassment.

  • Read our interview with Emma McInnes, co-founder of Women in Urbanism Aotearoa and a designer at MRCagency, about the group and its campaign here.

The desired outcome was to report incidences of harassment to the Human Rights Commission, while getting people talking about it, validating women’s stories of it, and empowering the public to intervein when they see it happening.

The campaign was to include visuals and copy as well as a rationale for platforms.

Below, the creative duo of Reuben Brooks and Grace Mitchell and share their response to the brief.

Reuben Brooks and Grace Mitchell

What sparked your interest in getting into the industry?

Brooks
I liked writing in school so it was either gonna be journalism or advertising for me. I ended up finding journalism really boring. I decided I wanted to make ads after our very first tutorial. Then I watched the episode of Mad Men where Don pitches to Lucky Strike and that sealed the deal.

Mitchell
I’ve always been intrigued in storytelling whether through film, a short docu-series or a punchline. Advertising stood out because it was a challenge to engage an audience who don’t have much time to spare and who you’re already starting off on the backfoot with. I like a challenge.

Reuben Brooks and Grace Mitchell’s response to the brief.

From what you have seen and learned so far through study and work experience, has the industry been what you thought it would be?

Brooks
It’s so much more than coming up with good headlines or a good script. The industry’s looking for people who can create ideas that are bigger than print or TV. But at the same time, the fundamentals will always be the same—to talk to people and get them to do something.

Mitchell
Yes and No. There are always going to be two sides to every industry and I’m not well versed in the area so I can’t truly speak on it. But there is some incredible talent who are striving to turn the ad world around and that’s what I want to be a part of.

What were your first thoughts when you received the brief for the Street Harassment campaign for Women in Urbanism?

Brooks
My first thought was that it was way beyond our capabilities. It’s a significant problem and I didn’t know if we would be able to give it the right treatment. We were dealing with human lives instead of products and services.

Mitchell
Honestly, a reel of failed attempts of social campaigns flashed through my head. With such important subject matter, the responsibility is even bigger to ensure you can actually deliver a captivating campaign while still handling it sensitively. Reuben and I wanted to avoid the usual guilt-tripping that comes with this genre of ads and instead have people thinking and acting on the ad long after they’d seen it.

How did you feel working with real stories from women who have experienced harassment?

Brooks
It was a scary brief because it was the first time we were dealing with real-life situations that have huge impacts on people’s lives. But it was also exciting because it’s not often you have the opportunity to make a positive difference rather than just selling shit to people.

Mitchell
It was sad, there’s no other way to say it. The ages that women had experienced it from were most alarming but not as alarming as the tenacity of the perpetrators.

Sexual harassment is not something everyone has experienced, so where do you go to get an understanding of it if you haven’t experienced it for yourself?

Brooks
Hearing people’s stories was definitely an eye-opener. Some people are just gross. But in order to really understand the problem we tried to get into the mindset of abusers and figure out what makes them do awful stuff on public transport, so they would hear us and actually change their behaviour.

Mitchell 
It sucks but subtle sexual harassment can happen on a daily basis for most women, and I’ve definitely experienced my fair share. To the point where you stop recognising it as sexual harassment because it starts to blend in with the everyday. That mindset is what we tried to capture in our campaign because women need to be reminded that things like guys pressing on you on the bus, or licking their lips and making lewd remarks is not okay.

Can you explain the idea behind the campaign you two created?

Brooks
In short, the idea is that unwanted attention is not romantic. It starts from the perspective of the perpetrator—they think there’s nothing wrong with what they’re doing, even thinking their behaviour is flattering. Then the whole thing is flipped upside down where we find out how grossed out and unsafe the victim feels.

Mitchell 
We wanted our words to be our weapon in this campaign so that we could focus on the impact left behind to the audience. We chose the style of a romantic novel to pull people in on the thought of ‘oh great another blah ad’ but then kick them in the gut with the following line. Not all romantic stories have a happy ending, nor are they always romantic to both parties involved.

As a creative, do you see your role as being one that can spark change in the world?

Brooks
For sure. In today’s climate, it’s so much easier to be viral. To be able to harness the globalisation of media can be so powerful. People bombard themselves with information all day, so to have the ability to cut through the noise is invaluable.

Mitchell
YES. Creating that one ad out of the dozens of people see in a day and actually making them laugh or truly think is something worth chasing. The best ads have probably been behind the creation of some big moves in this world. The 1943 ‘We can do it’ ad by J. Howard Miller is still having its say to this day, but would a President ever admit to an ad being behind his latest bill?

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