Last Spring, students registered in a Writing for Advertising course were proposed the idea of collaborating with one of the Bay Area’s most influential domestic violence advocates on a new advertising campaign. With domestic violence being one of the most “chronically underreported crimes,” according to a study conducted in 2012 by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), it makes sense to make a public push to create awareness about the services that La Casa de las Madres can provide. The study also outlined that only 25% of all physical assaults, 20% of all rapes, and 50% of all stalking committed against females by their partners are reported. In San Francisco alone, police respond annually to roughly 4,200 cases of domestic violence. But the prospect of that figure only representing half, or even a quarter of the actual number of victims was enough to motivate four distinct students in that Writing for Advertising class to create an ad campaign that can now be seen running along the side of Muni bus lines such as the 43-Masonic, the 28-19th Avenue, and the 19-Polk.
La Casa de las Madres, which translates into “Home of the Mothers, was founded in 1976 as California’s first shelter dedicated to women and children escaping domestic violence. Since then, La Casa has made it their mission to serve and protect women and children who have experienced or witnessed an act of domestic violence. While they offer a multitude of services such as psychological counseling, an emergency shelter, and legal assistance, La Casa mainly wanted the ads to feature the easiest and simplest way a bus rider could get in contact with them: their toll free 24-hour crisis hotline or their website address.
They also wanted an ad that would captivate the attention of a daily bus commuter, and for this they relied almost entirely on the class. La Casa made sure the students were free to create whatever they wanted using what they were learning in class as a guide, such as: understanding media aesthetics, persuasion and argument, organizational behavior, and design production. “Mostly it’s a class in copywriting, but it could be for anyone who would like to work in advertising,” said Professor Evan Elliot who taught the Writing for Advertising course. “So at the end of the day, you don’t have to be a copywriter, you can be an aspiring graphic designer or account manager. I can work anywhere in advertising but I need to know at least some of the rudiments of persuasive writing,” he continued.
Eliot’s long running relationship with La Casa was actually what facilitated the creation of the project. “Years ago, I was working in a marketing agency in the city and I proposed to them a pro-bono project,” said Elliott, who was at the time tasked with finding a suitable organization that could use some advertising help. “We looked at like a menu of nonprofits and each nonprofit had to pitch itself in roughly two or three sentences. We soon narrowed the field and La Casa was one of the finalists, so I just asked my colleagues which organization we should support and they chose La Casa,” said Elliott, who considers La Casa’s persuasive two or three sentence pitch as one of the clinching factors for their winning bid.
With so many students in one class it would have been difficult to get all of everyone’s input in only a handful of designs, so what Eliot decided was that he would split the class into groups of three or four and then they would present their designs to La Casa executives who would then, hopefully, choose a winning team. Nathaniel Fleming, sophomore Advertising major and captain of the winning team, said he always was motivated by the fact that he could have one of his designs become a real advertisement, but nonetheless he describes the outcome as a “dream.”
Sarinya Harinsuta, junior Advertising major and member of the team that won the ad-campaign, said she only found out that the posters had finally been placed on busses after hopping on the 28-19th Avenue line for a ride to work when she looked up and saw the ad. “I freaked when I saw it. It’s different being told that that it will be on the bus, that’s exciting too, but to see it and then see that others are looking at it too was something I will never forget,” said Harinsuta.
Although Fleming was a freshman in a class usually reserved for sophomores, the risk paid off since he considers the class one of his most successful in regards to learning outcomes. “This class was profitable, extremely profitable, more so than I thought,” said Fleming. The group, who was chosen as a winner during the semester, required some polishing and edits over the summer, with Fleming working remotely from Minnesota, while other teammates such as Asma Alsaadi corresponding from Saudi Arabia. It took a lot of dedication and time from the team members’ summer but Fleming said it was all worth it. “When everyone’s excited about something, we make good work and we all had fun doing [the project] but it wasn’t easy, and I am so proud of everyone, we made it happen, our goal was accomplished and that’s what feels good,” said Fleming.