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Media campaigns

Raising awareness of the risks and consequences of involvement in violence.

Insufficient evidence of impact

?

Evidence quality:

1 2 3 4 5

Cost:

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Prevention Type

  • Primary

Setting

  • Community

Themes

  • Neighbourhood

What is it?

Media campaigns aim to raise awareness about the consequences of involvement in violence. They share messages or information about violence with large numbers of people through television, radio, online platforms or print, such as newspapers and posters. This approach is based on two assumptions. Firstly, that greater awareness and knowledge about violence, victimisation and criminal justice responses may deter young people from involvement in violence. Secondly, that raising awareness and knowledge about youth violence may change perceptions and behaviours, leading to changes in wider societal norms.

Typically, violence prevention campaigns are run nationally, or in county areas supported by the police, police and crime commissioners and partners. However, small-scale campaigns are sometimes delivered in schools and university settings.

Media campaigns may involve:

  • Messages, images and videos shared using social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, Snapchat, Reddit and more
  • Radio and television, including adverts and documentaries
  • Print media, such as newspapers, magazines and leaflets  
  • Billboards and posters in high traffic areas, including bus stops, train stations and on public transport

Examples of recent media campaigns aimed at preventing youth violence include:

  • #KnifeFree is a Home Office campaign that uses real-life stories of young people, to highlight the consequences of carrying a knife and to inspire young people to pursue positive alternatives.  
  • Trapped Campaign is a campaign to raise awareness around the signs of criminal exploitation for children, parents and practitioners.
  • One Punch Campaign was run by several police forces in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland from 2013 onwards, to raise awareness about the consequences of violence, specifically that ‘one punch can kill’. Many One Punch campaigns included emotive videos shared online and radio adverts. The campaign was largely directed at alcohol-related offending.  

Is it effective?

There are very few evaluations of the impact of media campaigns on violent crime. There is insufficient evidence to calculate an overall impact estimate.

One UK study examined the effects of showing tweets about the risks involved in carrying a knife to young adult males aged 18-25. Participants were randomly allocated to groups viewing tweets about the risk of becoming a victim of stabbing or tweets about sugary drinks. It measured the impact on their willingness to carry a knife and the perceived benefits from doing so. The research found that the group exposed to information about knives were more aware of the risks of their own death whilst carrying a knife, but this did not affect their willingness to carry a knife.

How secure is the evidence?

The research on the impact of media campaigns is very weak. There is insufficient evidence to calculate an impact rating.

A review undertaken in 2016 of research related to media campaigns and youth violence prevention identified only six studies internationally. Five of the studies took place in school or college settings in the US and the sixth was in a college in the Netherlands.

These studies measured violence-related outcomes such as empathy, anger, knowledge, and attitudes towards violence. However, none of the studies directly measured the impact on crime or violence.

How can you implement it well?

Three evaluations provided insights about implementation.

An evaluation of a social media campaign in Essex, UK, aimed to deter young people from involvement in county lines. The study found that whilst the campaign reached a large number of the target audience, there was low engagement with the content. Reasons for low engagement included:

  • The messages were an unwanted distraction from their social media viewing
  • They had no interest in learning more about county lines
  • They didn’t recognise the brand behind the message and therefore paid little attention to it

A study in Glasgow captured feedback from young people about a No Knives Better Lives campaign, involving young people from both high and low violence areas. The evaluation identified three key themes:

  • Images of knives may actually encourage the carrying of knives, acting as a reminder of the perceived threat of knife-related violence and a need to protect themselves
  • Children and young people in areas with higher levels of violence tended to see knives as part of the way of life in their communities
  • The campaign shared images that potentially reinforced stereotypes related to young people and knife crime, which some young people perceived to serve the police and politics, rather than helping young people

An evaluation of a perpetrator-focused media campaign in high schools in the Netherlands found that the campaign actually reinforced ‘macho’ stereotypes and false beliefs about what sexual assault and rape is. False beliefs include beliefs that excuse sexual aggression and may create hostility towards or blaming of victims. The evaluation recommends:

  • Testing key messages, images and language with young people, to gather feedback about impressions before launching the campaign
  • Undertaking scoping work to design and manage messaging for high-risk groups

How much does it cost?

Currently we do not have enough evidence to provide a headline cost rating. The costs are likely to vary widely depending on the type, scale and duration of the media campaign. For example, the 2018 national Home Office ‘Knife Free’ campaign cost £1.3m. 

Topic summary

  • Media campaigns aim to share information or messages with large numbers of people, through television, radio, online platforms and print, such as newspapers and posters.
  • There are very few evaluations of the impact of media campaigns on violent crime. There is not enough evidence to produce an overall impact rating.
  • Some low-quality studies suggest that media campaigns could be harmful, where the message stimulates perceptions of threat or fear and increases likelihood of weapon-carrying.
  • In addition, media campaigns need to be designed without perpetuating stereotypes related to young people and violent crime.
  • Media campaigns have demonstrated effectiveness for some public health issues, including tobacco use, physical activity and sexual health. Learning from the success of public health campaigns could inform the use of media campaigns for violence prevention.

“What matters to someone who matters to me”: using media campaigns with young people to prevent interpersonal violence and abuse
Consultation with experts and young people was used as part of a UK scoping review to capture current thinking and practice on the use of media campaigns to address interpersonal violence and abuse among young people.

Mayor of London Campaign to help end violence against women
A new campaign launched in February 2022 by the Mayor of London, aimed at men and boys to address sexist attitudes and behaviours that are linked to misogyny and violence against women and girls.    

A Home Office campaign to tackle violence against women and girls.

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