Ad industry should do more in fight against knife crime

Knife crime is a huge problem. But we're quite good at solving those, aren't we?

It’s often said that advertising is a bubble, and we like to think things like knife crime don’t really affect us. But we’d be mistaken. Take what happened to one of us a while back…

"Back in the 1990s I was working at Grey as a young creative, and around 6pm I left work with a couple of friends. As we neared the local pub on the Euston Road we were suddenly confronted by a large group of young guys who looked a little out of place around Great Portland Street. You could just tell by their swagger and latent air of menace. 

"Sure enough, within seconds one of my friends was confronted and fists were swung. In the melee I was stabbed, at the top of my leg where it meets my backside. My friend was kicked unconscious and I lost several pints of blood from a sliced artery. At hospital the doctor told me the knife blade had just missed a nerve, which would have left me unable to use my left leg. Every time I read about someone being stabbed, which is pretty much every week, I’m reminded just how fortunate I was to walk away."

Of course, since then it’s got worse. Let's not forget that in January the chief executive of Kantar, Eric Salama, was stabbed and hospitalised. So far in the capital we’ve seen the knife crime epidemic continue from where it left off in 2018, a record year with 134 murders.

This is clearly not a problem that is going away. And adding to the sense of alarm is the fact that no one seems to be able to agree on what we can do about it. The politicians, community groups and the police themselves all seem to blame different causes and suggest different solutions. 

Our personal experience of knife crime encouraged us to work with the Southwark Anti-Knife Crime Forum last summer and we thought it would be a good idea to see if technology could play a role. Instead of just doing more ads aimed at the few who carry knives, why not try to empower the other 99.9% who don’t?

We as an industry are at our best when we use our creativity to help tackle some of society's biggest issues... not just sell them another brand of trainers.

We quickly developed an app, called Hunch, with advice and guidance from the Metropolitan Police’s Operation Sceptre and the Mayor's office. In essence, it allows people to anonymously tag a location if they have a hunch trouble may be brewing, alerting others and disrupting situations before they occur. It’s about to be rolled out with community groups and schools and was launched in parliament last September. Try it… it’s free on the app store.

Using technology like this was something that was also advocated this week on national TV. Former Met commissioner Lord Hogan-Howe, in response to the latest brutal killings, claimed the police were losing an "arms race" with gangs, and called for an app that would let teens report knife carriers anonymously: "At the moment all we have is wands and knife arches; our technology is in the dark ages."

Now, we're not saying that that the Hunch app is the magic answer to what has been described this week as a crisis. But it’s something. Something that we believe could genuinely start to play its part and make an impact.  Lord Hogan-Howe clearly agrees.

So while the politicians and police and everyone else talk about the problem, why don’t we all try to throw some of our collective brain power at the problem?

We think we owe it to society as an industry to get more involved. To make this city we all share safer for us, and our kids.

Dave Henderson and Guy Bradbuy are creative partners at Atomic London

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