These Happy Holiday Ads Are Much Darker When Read Backwards

A new take on an old copy trick

To raise awareness of domestic abuse around the holidays, British NGO Refuge tapped McCann in Bristol to conceive a print series of reversible prose poems.

Read top to bottom, they tell a happy holiday story. But when read from bottom to top, things go dark. Below is "Mistletoe." 

This isn't the first time we've seen this trick or iterations thereof. Showtime used it for a Ray Donovan teaser last year, as did hard cider brand Orchard Thieves, with its nifty—if not entirely seamless—reversible spot about a party that lasts until dawn. 

Below is a second iteration, "Christmas Eve." 

It's debatable whether doing the trick in print is easier or harder than creating a full reversible production. To make it work, sometimes you have to use phrases that suit the situation but aren't actually used in normal conversation. Those instances don't happen often in the reading of this campaign, which is a credit.

What's more, the gimmick sensitizes us to two facts in relation to its theme: First, that even seemingly warm relationships can mask terrors. And second, abusive relationships rarely begin that way; they get there over time. Reading the happy version of the tale first, and its darker side in the second go-around, provides an almost tangible sense of that progression. 

The ads end with Refuge's call to action: "If your partner turns on you, turn to us." The play on words, which echoes the turning of perspective required to read both sides of these stories, is a nice touch. 

Here's "Auld Lang Syne."

CREDITS
Agency: McCann Bristol, U.K.
Creative Director: Jon Elsom
Art Director: Ken Sara
Copywriter: Zane Radcliffe
Typographer: Steve Lay
Photographer: George Aytoun

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Angela Natividad
Angela Natividad is a founding contributor to Muse. She is also the co-founder of esports agency Hurrah.gg, and co-author of Generation Creation.