Broadcast, Press & Inserts

Undercover Crosswords

Office for Seniors, Ministry of Social Development

Issue 51 | June 2019


FCB New Zealand

Creative Team

Art Director Thomas Gledhill Copywriter Lennie Galloway

Production Team

FCB Hive Content Producer Michael Braid


June 2018


Shockingly, abuse of old people is rampant in New Zealand, with over 70,000 senior citizens being abused each year. What’s worse, over 75% of abusers are their own family members. The Office for Seniors had just created 0800 EA NOT OK; a helpline for elder abuse victims, aged 65+. But hardly anyone was calling. Not because they didn’t need help, but because there was little awareness of what elder abuse was. The task was to educate the elderly on what treatment isn’t ok and urge victims to call the helpline – all without alerting the abusers themselves.


With almost every newspaper publication in the country, 3.6 million Undercover Crosswords were launched. At first glance, they appeared like ordinary newspaper crosswords, something most elderly people pore over every day. But each daily crossword had one special clue, defining a type of mistreatment the elderly face. For two weeks, all the clues led to the same answer: abuse, followed by the helpline. Once the crosswords had gone out and victims had had time to seek help, the media that had run the crosswords now took the story to the nation, helping to finally push the issue out into the open.


The first objective of the campaign was to increase help seeking via the elder abuse helpline. In the first week of the crosswords running, calls increased by 112%.

The second objective was to raise national awareness of what constitutes elder abuse. With a tiny PR budget of $6K, a press release and a thought-provoking idea, 22 pieces of editorial media coverage were secured across print, digital and primetime broadcast news. This resulted in a total PR value of $675k, and an ROI of 112:1.

Calls further increased 271% during this period. Analysis revealed that one third of New Zealanders were aware of the campaign. More than half of those said it had changed their view of what elder abuse is and who the main abusers were.

Furthermore, MP and Minister for Seniors, Tracey Martin, was prompted to vow that the government would invest more in data capture and in resources to safeguard seniors.

Our Thoughts

We’re all a bit obsessed with digital in adland at the moment. On the one hand, it’s where all the innovations are happening. On the other, it’s where bots are churning out more and more rubbish, prompting more and more people to install ad-blockers. It’s easy to forget that there is one demographic for whom old media are still current media. Most people over the age of 65 still read newspapers and books and that’s the neat part of this idea. The abusers, being younger, wouldn’t have given their elders’ newspapers a second glance, thus allowing the message about the helpline to get through.

Further evidence that creativity is often a matter of cunning as much as anything else. And further evidence of the talents of the creative team behind this campaign, who are equally adept at talking to 20 year-olds as 70 year-olds judging from their work on pages 38-39.

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