Can advertising really change the perception of paramilitaries?

Can advertising really change the perception of paramilitaries?
Can advertising really change the perception of paramilitaries?

The ‘Ending the Harm’ campaign, which is part of the Northern Ireland Executive Action Plan to Tackle Paramilitary Activity, Criminality and Organised Crime, is aimed at highlighting the devastating impact of so-called ‘paramilitary style attacks’ on victims, their families, local communities and wider society.

The campaign was launched in 2018 but has been relaunched more recently in August 2019.

Central to the campaign is a series of story telling features of Paramilitary-style shootings and assaults, which were a feature throughout the Troubles amongst many communities in the North. Their frequency has diminished in the years since the Good Friday Agreement.

Before they launched this advertising campaign, the internal research showed that 35% of people living in those areas most impacted by paramilitary activity thought so-called ‘paramilitary style attacks’ were justified in certain circumstances.

The multi-media campaign that includes TV, radio, press, outdoor and social media advertising using the hashtag #EndTheHarmNI , was first launched in October 2018, and tells the story of a paramilitary style shooting from the points of view of the four people involved: the victim, his mother, the paramilitary gang member and a witness.

To date some of the public facing accountable figures include over one thousand twitter followers and a Facebook page has 550 page likes and has generated some nasty audience engagement saying:

  • “Great seeing so many sides to the story… But, importantly, what did he do to get his knees done?
    Like, Where’s the side of the old lady whose house he broke or the kid knocked down when he was joy riding, or the kids he sold drugs too?”
  • “Ya don’t get capped for nothing”
  • “House breakers, joyriders and sex offenders deserve it. Pity its only the leg”
  • “I don’t agree with punishment shootings, but let’s be honest here folks, they arnt getting them for good behaviour”
  • “Why dont we have a poll in northern ireland and see how many people agree with punishment shootings.
    I think most people turn to paramilitaries as a last hope because the police do nothing to help and if they do the justice system lets them down”. 19 people, not in a focus group somewhere liked that this statement.

Is perception really changing? Eighteen people have been shot in Northern Ireland in paramilitary-style attacks since the start of October last year – 11 of those shootings happened in Derry.

More recently further internal research carried out to assess the impact of the advertising campaign, designed to get a snapshot of current attitudes towards so-called ‘paramilitary style attacks’ in those areas, apparently shows that 19% of people believe they are justified, a suggested 46% decrease.

The latest police figures show that paramilitaries shot 17 people between October 2018 and the end of September this year.The figures do not include a shooting in west Belfast on 3 October or a shooting in Newtownards on 11 October or a more recent case where a young son runs for help after ‘brutal attack’ on father –

There is no valid reasoning for any of these attacks and the proposed public awareness campaigns obviously create more awareness that these things are happening outside of the communities in which they occur. The publically funded budget is clearly in the hundreds of thousands, if not one million plus, so it’s important campaigns like this are brought to wider public attentions…for example could the money be better spent investigating those committing the crimes, or supporting the communities being targeted?

The ‘Ending the Harm’ advertising campaign is supported by the PSNI, HMRC, The Department of Justice in North and Policing and Community Safety Partnerships (PCSPs) across Northern Ireland.

What is your perception of advertising campaigns like this? Check out to see the advertising and marketing content of this campaign.