By Steve Lalley

On realising the power of instinct

You Know Who isn’t like a conventional public health campaign. It doesn’t educate audiences about a new danger. Instead, it gives local people a name for something they’ve been living alongside for some time – ‘cuckooing’.

Cuckooing is a term coined by criminal gangs themselves, and it means infiltrating the lives of vulnerable people. Gangs intimidate, move in, cut the person off from the world and use their home as a base. Violence, crime, sexual exploitation and misery come to the neighbourhood.  


Cuckooing isn’t easy to spot. The gangs are clever about who they target: people they can control, those with addictions, sex workers, the neurodiverse, the lonely, the elderly. And they’re careful not to leave obvious signs. Walking past a victim’s home, saying hello in the shop, you probably wouldn’t notice. But if you live next door or even on the same street, you’d start to realise there was something wrong. 


The lack of definite signs could have been a barrier for this campaign. But instead it is our greatest asset. People know when something is up in their neighbourhood. They know it before the police (it’s all over the private Facebook groups) and they feel any change or oddness more acutely than some copywriter (no matter how well he’s been briefed by the strategist). 


So instead of ‘spot the signs’, where we might miss things or confuse people, we have focused on instinct and common sense; reinforcing this with a simple, repeating message structure.


You know who is vulnerable. You know who is a target. You know who’s acting different. You know who needs help. You know who to tell.


Also unlike other public health campaigns, there’s no need for us to devote space to behaviour change messages. Nobody requires convincing of the need to rescue victims from the misery of cuckooing. Even if they don’t consider a sex worker or someone with an addiction to be vulnerable, no one wants to see more criminal activity on their street. 


The whole purpose of the campaign then is to tell people what they already know, and to validate their strong community instinct. To give them the confidence to trust their gut, and to post or write anonymously, if something is even a little bit ‘off’.


Perhaps more importantly, in a time of a pandemic, when messaging about saving lives and personal health more often than not leave us afraid or confused, You Know Who is about taking action, not avoiding action. About hope and community. Reaching out, albeit from a safe distance, to help people who have no other support network. Not so much man lecturing from behind a podium, more rainbows in the window.

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