MTV's sexual assault awareness ads push a topic that can no longer be ignored

Continuing a focus on bias, 'Look Different' addresses rape culture

In the latest iteration of its "Look Different" PSA campaign, MTV is running fake banner ads about sexual assault and rape culture. The images are made to look like typical banner ads at first glance — with stock photos of smiling students and happy sales reps. But the copy tells another story.

"Hot co-eds in your area … want you to believe their sexual assault reports," reads one ad. The links lead to MTV’s "Invisible Ads" landing page, with information about rape culture — complete with academic sources — and resources for those who want to learn more or who have experienced sexual assault.

MTV partnered with Austin-based agency Preacher to create the ads, which was based on a simple idea. "People ignore rape culture the way they ignore banner ads," said Rob Baird, chief creative officer at Preacher.

Of course, people are trained to ignore banner ads. What’s to keep them from ignoring this entire campaign? "While standard banner click-through rates are hilariously low, banners themselves are as worthy of building awareness as a highway billboard. And awareness fights ignorance," said Andrei Chahine, vice president and brand creative director at MTV.

In addition, if viewers do completely tune out the ads, after 10 seconds they flip to reveal a much less subtle message with yellow-on-black copy.

The "Look Different" campaign addresses hidden bias in many forms, and previously it’s tackled subjects like LGBT rights and gender and racial diversity. But the public is less familiar with a topic like rape culture. "We set out to create something provocative and effective, just as MTV has done with other ‘Look Different’ ideas," Baird said. The selection of the topic grew out of a wider initial focus. "They reached out to see if we’d be interested in taking on gender bias with them," he added. "Together we landed on the important and difficult issue of rape culture. ‘Invisible Ads’ was one of a handful of ideas we pitched and was chosen for quickly getting to the heart of the awareness challenge."

It can be a daunting task. MTV has embraced the "social justice warrior" moniker used as an epithet by anti-feminist groups that have proliferated online in recent years. On Thursday, a "pro-rape" activist canceled his plans to hold rallies in 43 cities around the world. The existence of rape culture isn’t a message some people want to accept, but MTV says it's prepared for any backlash. "We are all about provoking conversation around cultural issues that are far too important to be ignored. Whether those issues are actively supported or flat-out denied, the key is to increase awareness and get people talking," Chahine said.

"The very notion that a majority of the population continues to argue that rape culture doesn't exist is the exact reason why MTV needs to do this campaign," Baird said." As with most critical social issues, there will be people on both sides of the fence. Our hope is that by helping to spread the truth through hard-hitting facts, we will be able to not only help educate those in denial, but further fuel the conversation across the board."

In addition to Preacher, MTV worked with Fallon to find pro-bono placement for the ads. They’ll appear on the MTV site and its affiliates, as well as the celebrity gossip site, women’s news site Bustle, and sites served by the Undertone and Kargo ad networks.

MTV will also run a short TV commercial for the campaign. The online ads run through Feb. 21.

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