Yesterday, millions gathered around their television sets to cheer for their favourite football team, eat junk food, and enjoy the Super Bowl.  While Canadians did not see the same, highly anticipated commercials during the game as those across the border, some have been so talked about that many have searched them out on YouTube and other streaming services.

The domestic violence PSA that ran is a good example of one that has gotten a lot of attention across the continent. This 30-second spot was developed from an actual 911 call made by a woman seeking help, but unable to ask outright while her abuser was in the room with her. The ad itself is well crafted and chilling in its simplicity. The last line: “When it’s hard to talk, it’s up to us to listen” reminds us that we all have a role to play in ending domestic violence.

There has however been a great deal of criticism about the National Football League’s (NFL) ‘donation’ of air time and cost of development of the spot. Many feel that taking a few seconds from their own contracted air time to promote themselves and engaging the league’s own ad agency to develop the spot for free is just more unfulfilled promises to address the issue that has plagued the NFL this past year. Is this really about demonstrating a change in how the NFL will address and respond to domestic violence as it relates to their players and their community?

Along with the ad campaign, which includes two other spots that ran last year, the league has donated money to the National Domestic Violence Hotline and promises harsher punishments for players. More polishing of their image, or is this actual effort to help end family violence?

While PR campaigns are often viewed as a salve to public opinion, or an effort to look better while doing nothing behind the scenes, they are also an impetus to positive change. Consider the public relations work, and subsequent environmental work, done by oil companies after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill; or the greater focus on customer safety and elimination post-manufacture tampering after cyanide-laced Tylenol capsules were discovered in 1982; or increased awareness for diligent quality control after the E. coli outbreak in 1996 connected to Odwalla juice.

The NFL may not be rushing to change their approach to dealing with players accused of domestic violence but they are adding greater awareness to the issue. They are inviting conversation, among supporters and critics alike. Violence and abuse live in the shadows and the silence. By speaking out we encourage change; it might be slow and at times appear ineffective but with each step and each voice, it grows.