When life doesn't imitate art - Women’s Aid PSA

July 28, 2013

WARNING: Video contains graphic content

The golden standard of Advertising?
It isn't uncommon for adland to hold the philosophy of 'Life imitates Art' up as the golden standard. This philosophy holds that art sets the aesthetic principles by which people perceive life. After all, the Aspirational in advertising does guide people's perception of reality and elicits desire for a new reality (through purchasing products).

Breaking the mold - Why this ad is so effective
However, the 2009 ‘Cut’ public service announcement by not-for-profit organisation Women’s Aid (UK), which has recently resurfaced to the forefront of the blogosphere, pushes back on this thought. And it is exceptionally effective in doing so.

The premise of the ad, starring Keira Knightley, is based on the fact that life is completely different from art/film. There's no director's 'cut!' or pause button, especially in the midst of domestic violence.

One of the few lines that Keira Knightley delivers tackles head on the common question of 'why do women so often stay with their abuser'. She says "I didn't agree to this". It carries the insight that abuse doesn't start all at once. Instead, it often starts with small manipulative actions and women in abusive relationships often rationalise or become acclimatised to such treatment. That is, they didn't sign up for abuse at the start of the relationship.

In the film’s closing moments, Keira breaks the 4th wall and speaks directly to the camera. This particularly effective; unlike instructional or promotional ads that typically employ this tactic of speaking directly to the audience, the majority of this ad had been filmed like a movie and viewed from the third person. In this case, breaking the 4th wall immediately pulls us in and elicits an urge to respond.

We are wont to respond to the call-to-action of calling 'cut!' on domestic violence. It’s also no wonder this powerful film has bubbled to the surface again. In recent times, high profile women like Rihanna and Nigella have been publically linked to domestic violence, triggering much talk about the kind of women we 'expect' to suffer domestic abuse; their stories show that in reality it could happen to anyone, and anyone can get used to "playful tiffs" (as Charles Saatchi put it).

‘Cut’ is a gripping piece of film. And every bit worth our attention and subsequent response.