By: Mijael Garrido Lecca (Director of Altavoz) y Ariana Lira (Subdirector of Altavoz and Director of the Investigation Unit)
Mijael Garrido Lecca
WHAT IS HAPPENING?
The Peruvian advertising agency, Circus Grey, was awarded several golden lions in the Cannes Lions International Festival this year. The majority of these awards were given to the campaign “A Love Song Written by a Murderer”. This piece, made for Vida Mujer, a NGO dedicated to the protection of women from the violence they are daily and sadly exposed to in Peru, presented a song, composed by singer Diego Dibós. The song, according to the video, is a “word by word” transcription of the letter a murderer wrote to his partner asking for forgiveness. The woman -according to the story that won in Cannes- was murdered by the author of the letter six days after forgiving him. The problem is none of this actually happened.
The thing is, the original version of the awareness campaign, released in Peru, doesn’t say the letter was written by a murderer. Far from it, it states that he brutally hit his wife after sending the letter. All is well up to this point.
However, the agency then presented another version in Cannes, with some alterations: it says that Diego Dibós is the most important romantic songwriter in Peru, and that the song was a radio hit. They say that when “everyone” knew the song, Dibós revealed the lyrics were a “word by word” transcription of a letter written by a murderer. In this second version, made to compete in Cannes, the woman was murdered -not hit-. This evident incongruence between both videos produced by Circus Grey got Juliana Oxenford and Matheus Calderón (part of this journal’s team) to publish an article in which they exposed the lack of consistency between the versions and how terrible it is to use femicide in such a way. Consequently, Circus Grey and Vida Mujer said the video was real and, moreover, they accused the investigation of being imprecise. A sad reaction.
Juan Carlos Gómez de la Torre, president of Circus Grey, admitted to this journal that the case had been “exagerated” and “perfected” to be sent to Cannes. He told us that in the world of publicity, there is a double standard: the work one does for the client and the one that is presented in Cannes. In advertising, pieces made specifically to be sent to a festival and win a prize are called “fakes”.
The mere comparison of both videos reveals a lie. The incapacity of Nelly Canción, director of Vida Mujer, to explain the origin of the letter, confirms the situation. The multiple explanations given by Circus Grey representatives further supports the veracity of the information that was presented.
Nevertheless, the publication of an official notice of Vida Mujer that ratified the alleged existence of a murdered woman and a murderer, put this journal in a critical situation: if what Vida Mujer said -and various representatives of Circus Grey endorsed- was true, Altavoz had published a lie, and a public rectification was necessary. The only way to know who was lying was to uncover the truth. And that is what we did.
ACT I: THE WORD BY WORD LETTER
After Juliana Oxenford and Matheus Calderón’s investigation was published, the president of Circus Grey, Juan Carlos Gómez de la Torre, said to this journal that the letter was actually an email.
Later on, Diego Dibós told us that Circus Grey gave him the email and asked him to use it as inspiration to write a song. This email had been shared by a victim of violence in a therapy session at the shelter of Vida Mujer.
The song “Eres mi vida mujer” uses 18 of the 284 words contained in the email. Strictly speaking, the song presented in Cannes by Circus Grey as a “word by word” transcription of the letter only has 6.3% of its actual content. We know publicists have a “flexible” understanding of language, yet we find it difficult to sustain that a text is a literal transcription when only 6% corresponds to the original.
Our investigation unit got access to the original email from which Dibós wrote the song. The singer confirmed this was the material he used to inspire his composition and also said he never saw the video Circus Grey presented in Cannes until after the awards were received. Dibós prefers not to declare about the use of his composition or his image by the advertising agency, but he did say he would have liked to have been asked. He explained he knows the song was not a radio hit, and this is what embarrasses him.
ACT II: THE MURDERED WOMAN
In various opportunities (more than 10) we asked Circus Grey and Vida Mujer about the identity of the victim, but they told us they could not reveal it in order to protect her. When we asked for the name of the murderer, we were told they could not reveal it for the same reason. When we offered to sign a confidentiality agreement, to gain access to the material so we could be sure about the facts and, if mistaken, could rectify ourselves, we were told this was also impossible. We never understood why.
Nevertheless, the president of Circus Grey admitted to this journal he didn’t know if the email was in fact written by a murderer (read: President of Circus Grey: “I don’t know if there was a femicide”). Therefore, they didn’t know if the woman had actually been murdered.
Altavoz reviewed all the material Vida Mujer has shared and that the media has published on their work. There, we found coverage in the news program “Beto a saber” on this NGO.
We found the story of Rocío Chávez, a woman who reported having been assaulted in more than one opportunity by a man. In “Beto a saber” Chavéz said several things which resulted curiously similar to the story that was being offered by Circus Grey and Vida Mujer. Rocío’s case has been covered in various places. Today, Perú 21 published an interview in which she tells her story of abuse.
Thus, we found a marriage document published a couple of years ago in Diario Uno in which the address of Chávez was stated. We went to look for her. Last night, after several hours waiting in front of an apparently deserted house, Altavoz met Chávez and confirmed she gave the email to Vida Mujer, the same email that Circus Grey gave Dibós to write the song. Later on, Dibós confirmed this is the email he was given.
Rocío Chávez, the alleged murdered woman that led Circus Grey to victory in Cannes, is alive and still being harassed by the man she reported. It is curious, however, that before this, Chávez never had any problems talking about her situation, using her first and last names, in front of a camera. Who is it that Circus Grey and Vida Mujer were trying to protect? Chávez told this journal that Vida Mujer and Circus Grey never asked for her consent on using the material she shared as part of a therapy session. Moreover, she told us she asked for the return of these emails, but was refused. The violence Chávez is victim of has been used to compose a winning piece of advertising without her permission even though the harassment exists to this day.
FINAL ACT: THE ROAR OF THE LIONS
Circus Grey has manifested that the only purpose behind their effort was to raise awareness for violence against women. The president of the jury who granted the awards explained that what he valued as especially powerful in this piece was that it is a real case and that Circus Grey found a way to get people to sing the lyrics in stadiums and to then expose an issue.
The problem is that the piece is composed of false facts, that the song is not a “word for word” transcription, and that no one ever sang the lyrics in a stadium. But more importantly, that there was no murder.
If the piece was so strong and sought to raise awareness of an issue, why is it that only Circus Grey talks about the death in the video presented in Cannes, but not in the version shared in Peru? It is here, and not in the south of France, where there is a serious issue of femicides. Why not use the campaign to achieve the objective Circus Grey defends: to raise awareness? Why invent a tragic situation when we live in a country in which tragedy is the headline twice a week? We will not emit judgement. We leave this to our readers. However, in this journal we are not willing to tolerate, ever, the use of the fake death of a woman for no reason. There are limits that cannot be infringed, and we believe the lives of people is one.
These days, we have been told that in advertising, precision is not as important as in journalism and that, in the end, what is important is its message on violence against women. We agree, but want to point out that who said the facts were real and harvested awards with the alleged realness of the presented case were not us. Moreover, we believe that if the message is what’s important, the message should have been spread in Peru, not in France. And if the whole world of advertising is one in which situations are invented, we hope it is the last time this implies using the lives of people and the suffering of women who were not asked about the matter. The truth has now been said.
Our mission as journalists has ended on this matter. However, in Altavoz we consider that gender violence is an issue that must be combated by the media. We have published and investigated many of these cases to pick up their versions with the few resources we manage. Thus, we will follow the case of Rocío Chávez and do whatever is at hand to find justice.
Even though we have the versions of all parties, we shall expose the answers they might have after this article. And we shall, upon them, try to understand the moral responsibilities each must assume. Today, for example, we have certainty that Rocío Chávez is still assaulted and that she has reported this to the press. We know Diego Dibós wrote a song without knowing how it would be presented in Cannes. We know Vida Mujer ratified the existence of a supposedly dead woman, who is actually alive. And we know Circus Grey presented, in Cannes, a version of the facts that is different from what was unsuccessfully released in Perú. We will do so simply because it is our job.
Finally, many advertising professionals have accused this journal of publishing something inspired by envy, imprecision and imperfection. “Let the dogs bark, Sancho…” they have publicly said to the parties involved, only to then ask the press to read, to be informed and to be rigorous. To them we say that the truth is our only interest. And if they will demand culture instead of envy, perhaps they should check what Cervantes wrote in “El Quijote”. Because the phrase “Let the dogs bark, Sancho”, was not said by Cervantes, ever. It was Goethe who said that centuries later in another way (you can read more about this here). What happened is that an advertising piece included the phrase in a narration of Cervantes’ novel and, since then, it is repeated as an incontestable truth. The problem is it is not the truth. That was advertising. This is journalism.
To read the investigation published by Juliana Oxenford and Matheus Calderón, click here: The Circus of Circus Grey: because femicide is not a game
We will not publish the email used to write the song because we don’t have Rocío Chavez’s authorization.