BITE Focus

How Channel 4, Dove and the National Centre for Domestic Violence used advertising to drive social change

Industry leaders shared how purpose driven marketing can create long-term change at the Renew 2022 conference.

Georgie Moreton

Deputy Editor, BITE Creativebrief


While purpose-bashing has become something of a competitive sport in the marketing industry, almost half of consumers believe that advertising can have a positive impact on society. 

According to Credos’ Ad Pays 8 report 46% of the public believed advertising has a positive impact on society and 42% believed advertising can make the world a better place. The role of creativity in ushering in positive social change was top of the agenda at industry conference Renew 2022 today (27 January).

In a panel session hosted by Nicola Kemp, Editorial Director at Creativebrief, Sharon Bryan, Head of Partnerships, National Centre for Domestic Violence, Zaid Al-QassabChief Marketing Officer and Inclusion & Diversity Director at Channel 4 and Alessandro Manfredi, Executive Vice President DOVE at Unilever explored the impact that the positive advertising industry can have when used to promote meaningful change.

Challenging perceptions

The Channel 4 ‘Superhuman’ paralympic campaign began back in 2012 but its latest iteration falls against the backdrop of a vastly different society. As Zaid Al-Qassab, Chief Marketing Officer and Inclusion & Diversity Director at Channel 4. Channel 4, explained, “Conversations around disability have moved on and people with disabilities and athletes don’t feel ‘superhuman’ so the focus shifted to highlight the ‘human’ element of the campaign.” 

Al Qassab shared that Channel 4 wanted the latest instalment of the campaign to be a reflection of the attitudes and feelings of the athletes and people the campaigns represented. With this in mind, the team placed active listening at the heart of the campaign and by asking questions and acting on feedback, they were able to create something that was authentic and socially relevant. 

As a result of the campaign and coverage of the Paralympics, 77% of people said that the coverage changed perceptions of those with disabilities. Al-Qassab believes that the campaign continues to challenge attitudes, giving a voice to those with disabilities. For Channel 4, where diversity and inclusion are core brand values, championing people and challenging perceptions were crucial in creating a meaningful and effective campaign.  

Creativity under constraints

Advertising can create a significant social impact by shining a light on societal issues that are shrouded in silence. Domestic abuse increased significantly during lockdown and Refuge’s ‘Abusers always work from home’ campaign was used to shine a light on the fact that offences rose by almost half (49%) in lockdown. 

“The campaign was made free-of-charge back in April when the film was commissioned to raise awareness and was shot on a smartphone”  explained Sharon Bryan, Head of Partnerships at the National Centre for Domestic Violence. “What we see in the film may seem shocking but is sadly a day to day reality of everyday life. When the country went into lockdown couples were stuck together and there was no respite of the partner leaving to go out for work.”

The campaign is a compelling example of creativity amidst constraint and despite restrictions, the team found creative solutions to remote shooting such as using towels to improve sound quality and self-filmed scenes. When restrictions were lifted the National Center for Domestic Violence saw an increase in people reaching out for help and the campaign reached over 22 million people.

Driving meaningful change

Dove’s “Courage is beautiful” campaign marked a step-change in communication for the beauty brand which pivoted its marketing in the wake of the pandemic. The campaign showed the marks of PPE left on the faces of front line pandemic workers after a long shift.

Beyond the advertising campaign, Dove donated over £5M of products to key workers in the pandemic. Alessandro Manfredi, Executive Vice President DOVE at Unilever, explained how the brand pivoted in lockdown. He said:  “We looked at our communications and everything seemed out of touch. We put most of our existing communications in the draw and went back to basics, encouraging people to wash their hands. Not just with Dove soap, with any soap. In the meantime, we started donating products to medical services and asked how we can show more empathy beyond donating products.”

He continued; “We saw through our agency Oglivy that healthcare workers were sharing pictures of exhausted faces urging people to stay home and we saw that this is beauty today; beauty is courage and we wanted to bring that to life.” 

The idea was simple but topical and resonated with consumers as it was able to both drive action and showcase the real people, the beauty of the pandemic. “We wanted to make sure it wasn’t exploitative, it was a difficult line to walk but the authenticity and work making donations ensured we were real and true to the workers in the pictures,” added Manfredi. 

These campaigns help to punctuate industry cynicism and ‘purpose fatigue’. They underline that advertising has the power to change the narrative and make positive impactful change.

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