How ‘knock knock’ shifts domestic violence reporting

‘Knock, knock’ is so often the start of a joke. But not this time. This time, it is the story of a Korean campaign that gives victims of domestic abuse, dating violence, and child abuse a way to report to the police while sharing a space with the offender. 

The culture-shifting project won the Glass Lion Grand Prix at the 2023 Cannes Lions. The Lion for Change, as it is sometimes called, “recognizes work that implicitly or explicitly addresses issues of gender inequality or prejudice, through the conscious representation of gender in advertising.” Entries demonstrate ideas intended to change the world.

The Knock Knock campaign, executed by Cheil Seoul in partnership with the Korean National Police Agency, got three awards in all at Cannes Lions 2023, sustaining a winning streak from other significant global advertising festivals this year.

‘Knock Knock’ is proving transformative in Korea, where only 1.7% of domestic violence is reported. Little Black Book explains that the story began in January 2022 when Korea’s premier ad agency noticed two things. 

First, South Korea’s low reporting rate for domestic violence became national news during the pandemic. Globally, reports of domestic violence had surged globally, except in Korea, where they decreased. The data showed that more than 80% of the victims were women unable to report the abuse because they were confined in the same small space with their abusers.

Second, an audio recording of a woman calling the police to report violence, while pretending to be ordering food, had gone viral. “She was quick witted and that’s how she communicated her address,” said Seongphil Hwang, creative director at Cheil Worldwide. “The policeman was very intelligent because he understood right away and came to her assistance. But we felt like this was very lucky and not all victims will be this lucky. So, as an agency, we needed to think of a creative to better connect with the police.”

The Cheil team realised that victims needed a simpler way to report domestic violence undetected by their abusers – one so simple even children could use it. Exploring ideas, they were inspired by Morse Code, which communicates through tapping. And they found, when they visited the police in March 2022, that the police were receptive, and hadn’t realized the potential of some of the technology already available to them.

The system, developed after six months of careful work and introduced to 4,800 police call handlers throughout South Korea in September 2022, lets people contact the police without saying a word. 

When they dial 112 and tap any number twice, they are sent a link that lets the police monitor the situation through their camera, track their location, and discreetly communicate through an app disguised as a Google search page to avoid alerting the perpetrator.

The initiative was unveiled on the Korean government’s official blog and YouTube channel, and widely publicized in police stations and government offices. Following the campaign launch, a total of 5,749 links were dispatched to individuals in emergency situations, and ‘Knock Knock’ was officially recognized as an emergency call system in South Korea.

The ad agency’s promotional campaign reached out to women. “So we went to beauty salons, nail salons, beauty channels, somewhere a lot of women would pay attention and they could comfortably talk about ‘Knock Knock’ and spread word naturally,” Cheil said. When they placed notices under face holes in massage parlours, it turned into a news story.

While the original focus was domestic violence, people also are using ‘Knock Knock’ to report other kinds of crime, and other government agencies are starting to realize the value of the approach, Cheil told Little Black Book.

It turned out that many victims needed to silently report to the police, the team said. “That included the deaf community of course, they can obviously benefit from this programme. We’ve seen reports where school violence was resolved, because when you’re in front of your bully it can be hard. And also drug offenders have been arrested. And last month we were approached by our Korean Fire Department – they have a different reporting system, but in a fire it’s very hard to communicate so they acknowledged that this is a solution they might need.”

“Through the Knock Knock campaign, we hope our silent 112 police emergency call system becomes a sustainable solution in which any citizen in danger can reach out to, and any police officer can quickly respond to,” said an official of the Korean National Police Agency.

When Knock Knock won the Glass Lion this year, Cheil expressed great appreciation for the Korean police’s support for the service, which works 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

“It’s an ongoing solution and it was only possible because of the support of our police force. They are still working through ‘Knock Knock’ and we want to send our thanks to them and give our biggest gratitude to the KNPA for making this possible.”


Knock Knock: The Persistence Behind the Grand Prix Winner That’s a Lifeline for Korea’s Crime Victims. Little Black Book, Jun. 28, 2023

Creative Dive: ‘Knock Knock’ – Cheil Worldwide Seoul. Branding in Asia, Mar. 21, 2023

Cheil Worldwide wins Grand Prix at Cannes Lions 2023. The Korean Economic Daily, Jun. 26, 2023

Images: Cheil Worldwide Seoul.