Would You Answer This Suicide Call?

Social experiments, when put together properly and executed effectively, have always been a powerful way to send a message. They’re an ideal framework for guerrilla advertising, as many social experiments are cheap to stage, and require little in terms of resources to pull off. Of course, not all social experiments make their case, and sometimes even those that do suffer from questionable video representation. But, we’re happy to say that this recent campaign from Ogilvy Brussels calling for volunteers for Belgium’s Suicide Hotline delivers on all fronts.

The Ringing Phone

It seems logical to assume that people who passed a ringing phone would want to answer it. But would they still be so eager to do so if the phone was one end of a suicide prevention hotline? As a part of raising awareness for World Suicide Prevention Day, on the 10th of September, Ogilvy Brussels and Zelfmoordlijn came together to ask that very same question. They set up a Zelfmoord1813 calling booth in the middle of a busy square, and then had the phone ring. Not everyone was up to answering, but when someone did a simple call for volunteers appeared on screen for viewers at home.

The Right Kind Of Volunteer

In many communities suicide is something of a taboo topic, made even harder to access by flawed beliefs that there’s nothing that can be done for a person seriously considering suicide. Still, manning a suicide hotline is a hard job, especially for a volunteer, so it is easy to see how Zelfmoordlijn might have struggled to find willing participants. This is why this campaign is so successful. It immediately separates those who are ready to answer the call, from those not comfortable in doing so. For the audience watching at home it poses a simple, but powerful, question: What would you have done?

 Effective Use of Sound

The sound of a ringing phone is not necessarily powerful in itself, but in the right context this noise can motivate any range of emotions. In this case, the ringing phone was first juxtaposed against the sounds of the busy square. But, as the phone goes unanswered, the rest of the noise is filtered out so the audience focus is only on the phone. This in itself is a powerful message about the issues of preventing suicide, indicating that sometimes people can only be heard above the noise of everything around them if someone stops to listen.

So, Who’s On The Other End?

From the campaign, viewers get a distinctive idea that the person on the other end of the line is actually a real caller wanting advice. We can’t say for sure on this, but the truth is it doesn’t matter. If the person on the other end of the phone is just someone encouraging for volunteers, then the campaign has still effectively communicated its message. If the person has really called the hotline in a time of need, the phone box the busy square makes yet another statement about bringing the discussion on suicide into the public eye.


Advertising Agency: Ogilvy Brussels, Belgium
Creative Director: Sam De Win
Art Director: Brigitte Bourgeois
Copywriter: Nathalie Strybos
Account Team: Tomas Sweertvaegher, Audrey Laurent, Elise Carpentier
Agency Producer: Bruno Dejonghe
Film Production Company: TRS
Director: Jan Boon
Executive Producer: Frederik Zaman
Published: September 2014

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