Background and purpose of the We listen campaign

Samaritans’ We Listen campaign is the third associated with the Network Rail partnership following Men On the Ropes (2010) and We're in Your Corner (2012).  

Waterloo adgate for We Listen

Our We Listen campaign

We're in Your Corner (2012) coincided with the report Men and suicide: Why it’s a social issue that examined why men from low socio economic backgrounds were up to ten times more likely to die by suicide. Coupled with the fact that 80% of railway suicides are men, We Listen is a progression of this thinking and focusses on the expert listening service provided by Samaritans volunteers and has been live across the railway network for eight months.  Since 2016 We Listen has been rolled out on posters and digital formats and it’s anticipated that the campaign will be live for two years as a ubiquitous Samaritans tagline.

For the last six years, the partnership between Samaritans, Network Rail and the wider Railway Industry has sought to reduce suicides and improve support for those affected by them.  The recent Annual Safety Performance Review detailing a 12% drop in railway suicides has given further credence to an association that has been responsible for the training of over 12,000 railway staff in managing suicidal contacts and trauma.  The resultant 34% rise in staff interventions is also testament to a culture of care that’s disseminating through the railway family.

Through its striking imagery and hidden messaging the campaign seeks to raise awareness and increase understanding of Samaritans so that people see contacting us as a positive, empowering first step in seeking help and taking control of their lives. It focuses on the expert listening service provided by Samaritans volunteers and aims to show that while it’s easy to hide your feelings, when someone really listens, you’re more likely to open up and start working through your problems. Samaritans are there for everyone and they don’t just hear you, they listen.

The campaign is also our furthest reaching promotion of the new free to call number 116 123.

Reaching the right people

Given that the research has cited that those most at risk of suicide are white men, aged 30-55 from deprived socio economic backgrounds the quantity of posters and digital images in circulation is weighted towards maximising impact on this group. However, while previous campaigns have been restricted to just displaying men from this demographic, We Listen also features men and women of different ages/ethnicities allowing for a broader appeal. 

Testing the design concepts

During the development of the new campaign, creative concepts were tested with members of the target audience and wider general public. The testing took place via focus groups across England, Scotland and Wales run by the independent market research agency Ipsos MORI.

The research was a crucial part of the evolution of the campaign in order to help establish:

  • Resonance with people and likelihood of encouraging them to call the Samaritans free helpline, 116 123, if they were struggling to cope.
  • Whether the new campaign explicitly highlighted the issue of suicide on the railway and would not inadvertently attract people to the railway to take their lives.

A range of ideas were tested, of which the “We don’t just hear you, we listen” concepts were by far the most positively received across all groups. Focus group participants found the designs visually appealing and helped to explain the Samaritans service and who it was aimed at. Crucially, there was no suggestion that the campaign would in any way highlight the railway as a method of suicide.

People also said that they identified with the themes contained within the hidden messages around loneliness, struggling to cope and feeling desperate. Furthermore, they felt that showing people with their heads turned away from the camera would reinforce the confidentiality and anonymity of the Samaritans service, while highlighting the expert listening skills provided by its volunteers.

The design concept

Hidden messaging: The artwork references a range of common everyday issues that people might struggle with, such as job loss or relationship breakdown, but which they wouldn’t necessarily consider seeking help for. The hidden messages show that while on the surface people may appear to be coping in these scenarios, in reality they may be feeling vulnerable and in need of support. 

The models: In addition to making the campaign instantly eye-catching, having the models with their backs to the camera conveys isolation and loneliness, as well as reinforcing the confidentiality and anonymity of Samaritans services.

The colour scheme: The softer colour tones were chosen to ensure the striking image and text stand out to increase the impact and clarity of the messaging.

The Network Rail logo

Network Rail has been working with Samaritans to raise awareness of the charity’s emotional support services since 2010, along with Britain’s train operating companies and British Transport Police. Network Rail funds the campaign on behalf of the wider rail industry and the small logo on the artwork has been placed there to acknowledge this funding arrangement.

We Listen has recently undergone further robust analysis by market research company IPSOS Mori to further hone its development away from a simple set of posters to a more multi-layered campaign aimed at long term engagement, further reach and greater impact.