'#Knifefree': setting the record straight

After the backlash from the Home Office's chicken-box knife-crime campaign, FCB Inferno's executive vice-president explains the thinking behind the work.

There has been a huge amount of debate about the "#Knifefree" campaign over the past few days. Much of the discussion over our role in the campaign has been inaccurate and our staff have been harassed and had their images shared online. It is therefore important that we set the record straight.

"#Knifefree" is a multimedia campaign now in its second year. The work, which aims to educate 10-to 21-year-olds on the dangers of carrying knives, stresses the importance of early intervention to tackle the root causes of violent crime and provides young people with the skills and resilience needed to lead lives free from violence. The campaign lives mainly in social, digital and out-of-home channels. If you didn’t see it, it is perhaps because you aren’t the target audience.

The second phase included a pilot grass-roots youth-advocacy programme. This involved not-for-profit social organisations recruiting and training local role models to provide support and help for our target audiences. The feedback from these advocates was the need for on-the-ground collateral such as stickers. Posters and branded takeaway boxes in local fast-food outlets were also ideas that were received well.

The managing director of Morley's chicken franchise, Shan Selvendran, also felt compelled to do something to help following a teenage stabbing outside one of its outlets in Bellingham, London. He approached All City Media Solutions directly about the campaign, wanting to run activity in-store at the company's south London outlets, and so it was decided that both digital screens and takeaway boxes would be used in the franchises. His story can be found here.

ACMS distributed the takeaway boxes alongside its network of digital screens, the latter of which have previously been used by a wide variety of youth-focused brands. You can read the ACMS statement at the end of this piece.

The initial launch was well-received by community partners, street teams and the advocates. At the time, these boxes were referred to as chicken and burger boxes – designed to be available for multiple types of fast food.

This latest roll-out through chicken shops specifically was handled directly by the Home Office and two media houses. FCB Inferno was not involved at any stage in the media buy.

While we were not involved with this roll-out, we remain very proud to have devised the overarching "#Knifefree" campaign: the creative idea that was born out of extensive feedback from our young audiences across the country and the content itself – the films, the posters, the website that signposts to free partner activities and places of support for young people around the country, and the in-school activations.

Home Office insights partners sensitively carried out robust research among our audience, in-depth interviews were conducted in safe environments, taking care to listen and not judge. Community and charity organisations were also involved and listened to. And the idea that kept rising to the top was the desire to hear about how young people like themselves had found a way out, that there was hope and that there was support.

FCB Inferno’s part in tackling knife crime is small in the grand scheme of things. However, if we reach one young person with our messaging and get them to reconsider carrying a knife, then it is a very important drop in the ocean.

And if you have read the Home Office Serious Violence Strategy paper (published in April 2018), you will see there is no one single answer, and many strands of investment and initiatives across the board are needed. Part of which is the £200m investment into charity and youth organisations to support and provide positive alternatives for young people. The reasons for the rise in knife crime among young people are multiple and complex. Societal, cultural, environmental factors all come into play. Again, all this information is widely available in the public domain. "#Knifefree" is just one facet of much wider work that is being and still needs to be done.

One of the positives of the past few days has been the impassioned voices within the advertising and marketing industry speaking about the issue. Is there an opportunity for the advertising and marketing community to come together to add to the work being done? Channel some of the passion we have seen over the past few days into action? After all, a lot of the brands we help promote are targeting the same audiences at risk. There are many, many community organisations, charities and grass-roots initiatives, outreach programmes out there that are doing amazing things to help. As well as government support, we need private-sector help. Can we tap into the collective power and creativity of our industry to roll up our sleeves and help?

Sharon Jiggins is executive vice-president at FCB Inferno

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