Assaulted Women’s Helpline goes inside an ‘Inescapable House’

Who: The Assaulted Women’s Helpline (AWHL) with G&G Advertising for creative and strategy; Brave for production; Subject2sound for audio; and PUSH for media.

What: “The Inescapable House,” an extension of 2021’s “House with No Escape” awareness campaign, also by G&G, which sought to help the public empathize with victims in an abusive relationship.

When & Where: The work is in market now, consisting of online video on AWHL’s owned and operated channels, wild postings, and a YouTube buy.

Why: The intent of “The Inescapable House” is to reach the many people who fail to understand why a woman is unable to leave an abusive relationship, and give them a sense of what it feels like to be trapped in an unhealthy environment.

In 2021, AWHL reported that calls to the helpline had increased 86% during the pandemic. In 2023, the call volume remains a staggering 79% higher than pre-pandemic levels. The reality is these situations are not improving, and often require intervention from an outside party.

The creative is an escalated version of the previous campaign, which saw the agency brick-off a suburban home and ask people to imagine being trapped inside. The new iteration ramped up the experiment by inviting people inside a home without exits. While many people can empathize with the visual of another person being trapped, the experience of being trapped oneself is undeniably more frightening.

“It’s the constant question that so many ask: “Why doesn’t she just leave?” that we found most compelling to dig into,” said G&G’s co-CEO and CCO, Alanna Nathanson. “The answers are complex, and yet we found a way to encapsulate what it truly boils down to: the emotional state of being completely trapped. This campaign communicates that on a visceral, powerful level.”

How: AWHL took the recommendation from G&G to flip the concept on the previous creative strategy. “It was a great way to refresh the campaign and keep its compelling message top of mind,” said AWHL board member Sheila Phillips.

Torontonians were invited to tour a seemingly normal open house. Information about changes to the house, namely that it lacked windows and exits, were kept under wraps until people walked through. Instead they encountered their own clues: a suitcase by the front door with a tag that read “it can take approximately seven attempts for a victim to leave their abuser once and for all,” a bouquet of roses with the label “abusers will love bomb their victims to establish a false sense of intimacy and trust,” and a cosmetic container that read “bruising is the most frequent manifestation of physical abuse.”

As the individuals realized that there was no way to leave the house, their real-time reactions were captured on video, and incorporated into a film that AWHL released on Nov. 14, timed with Domestic Violence Awareness month. In the 90-second version, one woman describes the feeling as overwhelming, while a man says the experience gave him goosebumps. The spot ends with the super “when you live with abuse, there’s no easy way out” and redirects to AWHL’s website and the helpline number 1-866-863-0511.

There are several supporting posters, half of which borrow creative from the physical activation: close-up shots of the suitcase, the roses, and an additional image of a necklace in a gift box that reads “20% of victims go back to their partners after receiving an apology.” The other half show blueprints of various homes without exits, which evoke a feeling of claustrophobia even at brief glance.

And we quote: “The numbers on domestic abuse in Canada are staggering and a common question [remains] why don’t women just leave? Our hope was to create a sense of empathy for the realities of what so many women in abusive situations experience and to encourage people to take a closer look and understand the resources available to help support survivors– AWHL board member Sheila Phillips.

Emma Johnston-Wheeler