Yael Staav in Adweek

Yael Staav in Adweek

/ Adweek

It’s Valentine’s Day, and the men in this Canadian PSA campaign sound brokenhearted as they recall losing the women of their dreams.

“I miss her smile. I miss her friendship,” says one.

“When we broke up, my world got thrown,” says another.

“I couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep,” confides a third.

At first, they seem like sweet, honest, caring guys—the kind women would be foolish to leave. But that’s just part of the story.

In fact, no matter what they say, you shouldn’t feel too sorry for them. That becomes apparent about halfway through the spot. Its tone begins to shift, and we realize the “ones that got away”—the women these guys lost—are better off without them.

“Far too often we only see physical violence as the aspect highlighted in conversation around domestic abuse,” says Lance Martin, chief creative officer at Toronto-based Union, which developed the ads for Interval House, Canada’s oldest women’s abuse shelter. “We wanted to broaden the spectrum and help more people recognize and understand the struggle that comes with leaving abusive relationships.”

That struggle, he says, often includes trying to leave someone who can appear perfectly supportive and loving most of the time. “One minute you feel sorry for your partner,” he says, “and the next, you realize the troublesome relationship you are in.”

The men in the ad never act overly aggressive. They don’t raise their voices, curse or smash furniture. Ultimately, the “big reveal” is quite subtle, but remarkably menacing.

“I’d call and call and call and call … and call,” one guy says of his attempts to reconnect with an ex-girlfriend, his rage simmering just below the surface as he repeatedly bangs his palm against a steering wheel for emphasis.

“She’s mine, she’s my girl, she’s not gonna be with anyone else,” vows another, his voice taking on a dangerous edge.

At the end we’re told, “The only thing worse than feeling sorry for them is having to go back to them,” and learn that it takes an average of five attempts to leave an abusive partner.

The agency believes the subdued approach provides a nuanced and compelling complement to more dramatic, often brutal PSAs.

“The traditional narrative around this topic is normally an aggressive man getting physically violent with their partner,” Martin says. “You see the images of a battered spouse or partner, which has become a bit of white noise and sadly easy to scroll by. We wanted the viewer to feel a range of emotions and to truly understand different aspects of domestic abuse. It’s one thing to tell someone how difficult it is to leave an abusive relationship, it’s another to have the viewer understand it.”

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