The Spot: Surviving Abuse

A boy looks to the future in Ogilvy's brutal manifesto for children's rights

GENESIS: Earlier this month, Amnesty International found children's rights to be severely lacking in Ireland, and a constitutional referendum to strengthen them has been delayed many times. A brutal new ad for the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children aims to galvanize viewers into financially supporting the fight for children's rights by laying bare the emotional and physical toll of abuse. The spot, by Ogilvy Dublin, shows a boy being beaten at home while still managing to articulate, in grown-up language, a manifesto for what children deserve in life—as well as the future he dreams for himself in a present that's unbearable.

TALENT: The lead role was critical. To find someone who wouldn't feel afraid, and who would know how to fall, the filmmakers advertised in karate and judo clubs. Soon, they found their star—a 7-year-old taekwondo enthusiast whose name is not being made public. "He has baby-like features and visually looks very vulnerable," says director Richie Smyth. In fact, he was far from it, and actually enjoyed being thrown around the set. "I had to keep saying to him, 'Now, when you land, I don't want you laughing or smiling,' " says Smyth. The boy also proved a precocious actor, delivering his lines with remarkable pathos. "You'd have thought he'd been acting all his life," says Ogilvy creative director Colin Nimick. The abuser is also an actor, not a stuntman. His face is never shown. "It's not clear who he is—father, stepfather, mother's boyfriend," says Nimick. "It's about what's happening to the boy, not what the other person's motives might be."

COPYWRITING: The copy amounts to an emotional declaration of children's rights, with a twist on the familiar narrative of what kids want to be when they grow up. "It's almost like he's speaking for who he's going to become," Nimick says. "He can look forward to the time when things will be different, and he will be on the side of making them different." While some say the ad is bleak, Nimick believes the child's defiance represents clarity and optimism amid the pain.

ART DIRECTION: The Dublin home looks average, not too poor. "There's toys and everything should be happy," says Smyth. The action takes place in the kitchen, a harder environment than the living room without the sexual connotations of the bedroom. Visually, the spot is more documentary than ad. There is almost no color grading—although, oddly for Ireland, the day of the shoot was sunny, so some colors had to be toned down. The boy's makeup reflects the escalation of violence without so much gore as to seem unrealistic.

FILMING: The ad was shot on a single day, April 29. The hitting was simulated using typical stunt techniques. The camera is handheld, with the frames loosely composed to give a voyeuristic feel. Static shots open and close the ad, to bookend it. Smyth considered a different ending, with the boy lying on the ground, but felt the quiet resilience of him pulling on his jacket "was just so poignant a moment."

SOUND: All sound was recorded live—the boy's voice, the slaps and punches, the impact on the padded floors and walls. The only enhancement was a crack of chicken bones mixed into the punch. There is no music, which by its nature is emotionally manipulative.

MEDIA: The client is buying time on two TV stations, while a third station has aired the spot for free. Views are into the hundreds of thousands on YouTube. Irish actress Saoirse Ronan reads the manifesto in a separate video on Facebook.

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