Trouble in Paradise Hill: how Bauer showed any home can be a broken one

Last year, Home ran a feature, Paradise Hill. Like any other story in the magazine, it includes images of an architecturally ground breaking house and a story about its design and the family who lives in it. However, those who didn’t know better might think Home dropped the ball with it. On close inspection the interior images include a blood stained staircase, a knocked over bar stool, shattered ceramics on the floor and a smashed coffee table. But there was no ball dropping behaviour by editor Jeremy Hansen and the team. It was all part of a carefully constructed plan.

FCB, agency for the Ministry of Social Development, approached Home to create a campaign that would change the perceptions of domestic violence and remind readers that domestic violence isn’t only restricted to those in lower socioeconomic households. 

Deputy chief executive, community investment for ministry of social development Murray Edridge says wealthy homes are a sector of the community where family violence remains hidden and victims often suffer in silence.

There’s a perception there is enough money, or enough affluence, that if domestic violence was happening then the abused partner would easily be able to leave, but that’s not always possible.

If one person in the relationship is not working they may not have their own income and their partner could close off access to the bank accounts as well as employ powerful lawyers to fight for custody.

As an editor, Hansen wanted to be able to use Home to help social causes. However, it hadn’t occurred to him the content could be used in the way FCB suggested to support an organisation like It’s not Ok and bring to light an issue of such importance.

More than an ad

Unlike traditional magazine campaigns for which the agency book ad space, FCB and Home worked closely during the entire process, making sure the final product suited the needs
of all involved.

For Hansen and the editorial team, one thing they needed to be sure of was that the campaign fitted into the Home environment.

Given its aspirational tone, readers treat the magazine like a “warm bath”, a safe zone for them to dream and think about the future while also admiring the homes in the magazine at their own pleasure. 

Because of this, Hansen was both excited and cautious about the idea. He didn’t want to betray the trust in the relationship between the magazine and its readers. While there was no question the readers could handle the issues, he didn’t want them to feel tricked.

It’s not OK is not the usual brand featured in the magazine’s pages and seems an unlikely fit alongside beautiful ads for home décor and inspiring designs. In order to make it fit, the editorial team spent a couple of weeks creating a narrative of a fictional family.

The Ashworths, a mum, dad and three children appear to live the perfect life in a four-storey house on the side of a hill. However, both the parents and their home are purchased stock images, chosen because they fit into the New Zealand context. The images of destruction inside the home come from a staged shoot.

So realistic is the story, it’s not revealed until the end that it is in fact an awareness campaign. An editor’s note in the bottom corner of the magazine, says “the story was developed by It’s not OK in partnership with Home magazine to highlight the issue of family violence and urge people to seek ways to prevent it”. It also says
the featured couple are actors.

The devil’s in the details

Paradise Hill was put together in a way that meant readers had to really delve in deeply to figure out what was going on. While the blood stain and broken décor and furniture provided some discomfort from the beginning, the story required deep engagement by readers who wanted to know what was going on.

While the subtle approach had the chance for some readers to miss the message, Edridge says It’s not Ok felt the subtlety was a reflection of the environment of secrecy and shame, making the message incredibly powerful.

Additional engagement comes from the couple, who despite being fictional, are relatable to most readers. Hansen says this is why the campaign worked well to change perceptions surrounding domestic violence. He refers to it as shocking readers in a productive way, “that they would hopefully apply that situation to other people in their social orbit and just be aware and alert to the signs that domestic violence might be going on in these homes and just trust their instincts and to investigate further if they see the signs”.

Being so concerned of the risk Home was taking with the story, Hansen didn’t feel he was in good territory until after the magazine was released. 

Home received comments on social media and emails from readers who were impressed the magazine had taken on the issue, saying it had done so in a thought provoking way. Hansen says it was uniformly positive feedback and some made particular note of the fact they hadn’t previously considered the fact that domestic violence was taking place in the homes of upper socioeconomic people.

An unexpected, but welcomed outcome was the way the campaign went viral. It was supported on social media with a video telling the story of the execution and the concealed message in Paradise Hill.

Hansen thought people who are interested in media and advertising would enjoy it, but he was surprised when it racked up thousands of views and was picked up by media across the world, including France and Italy.

The attention saw Home receive praise for bringing to light the issue of domestic violence in all levels of society, and for Hansen that was the best outcome of all. 

  • This story first appeared in the Media edition of NZ Marketing and is part of a content partnership with Bauer Media. For more information, contact [email protected]

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