The best of non-profit advertising and marketing for social causes

“Artsy” domestic violence awareness campaign is lost in translation

“Artsy” domestic violence awareness campaign is lost in translation


Violence is not beautiful. But for some reason, BETC, Paris seem to have tried to make it so.

The original French-language campaign can be seen, in thumbnail form only, on the front page of the Ni Putes Ni Soumises (neither whores nor submissives) web site. The big images on the press release are broken links.


Here are two in larger form, via


The copy makes all the difference. Or rather, the poor English adaptation for the international ad appreciation community.

In French, the tagline is “Indifference kills,” and the call-to-action is to learn more about International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. While still a graphically shocking campaign in the English version, the copy “Fight violence against women” — in addition to being sadly ironic — is so generic that it makes the campaign appear self-serving (for the agency, who want the attention) and exploitative (of harmed women).


The “Grave Green” translation isn’t just confusing. It’s misdirecting. In all of the French language ads, the bruises are shown as evidence of ongoing violence: “Rape Green,” “Rage Red” and “Fist Brown” (the wordplay doesn’t translate). The implied recent death of the woman below the image tells us what the woman’s fate will be (or was), due to people around her not noticing the warning signs of abuse. In this context, it’s a powerful message: THESE BRUISES ARE TRYING TO TELL YOU SOMETHING. And although the worldplay is a little off-putting, the overall idea of bruises as urgent messages is clear.


“Booze brown” is another misdirection. While alcohol is certainly a contributing factor to some abuse scenarios, the “message” of the bruise is not about alcohol abuse. It’s about violence.

So, why did BETC completely ruin their campaign? I am baffled. But the horrible translations and loss of campaign context do worse than devalue their work — they appear to devalue the cause.

Ni Putes Ni Soumises
BETC, Paris

I am Creative Director at Acart Communications, a Canadian Social Issues Marketing agency. Read more