Canadian-made campaign aims to help refugees globally

The challenge BBDO Toronto tackled was how to help First World citizens relate to the realities of being a refugee. What they came up with was micro-targeted, and so powerful that the UN is sending it around the world.

Pro bono assignments don’t come much tougher than the one tackled recently by Patrick Scissons, VP/associate CD at BBDO Toronto: partnering with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
to create an awareness campaign to somehow help alleviate the plight of 20 million global refugees.

Scissons tells MiC he and his team ‘struggled with the fact that (more fortunate) people don’t understand what it is to be a refugee.’ But, judging by the first flight of the campaign, BBDO was equal to the challenge, as was Toronto-based PHD Canada, which is handling media duties.

The PSA radio spots are tactical by market, Scissons explains, describing one that references a well-known Toronto neighbourhood: ‘If you live in the High Park area,’ an announcer intones, ‘we regret to inform you that your house has been ransacked and burned to the ground.’

The 30-second TV PSA features an animated sequence of a snail being forcibly removed from its shell. Tagline: ‘If you think this is disturbing, you should know it’s being done to over 20 million people around the world.’ The print components, which will be sent to Canadian publications next week, focus on what it’s like to be without shelter, food and water.

And speaking of H2o, Scissons says his team is now tackling the critical lack of fresh water in various parts of the world. Bottled water and water cooler companies are being sought as sponsors of a proposed camapign whose creative has already been worked out. Under the caps of 500-ml water bottles will be the message: ‘This is all the fresh water a refugee family gets per day. Help us give them more.’ The message to be attached to water coolers is: ‘This is all the fresh water a refugee camp gets every week. Help us give them more.’

UNHCR was enthusiastic enough about what Scissons’ team produced to quickly begin disseminating it in a dozen countries, including Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Croatia, Greece, Hungary, Mexico, Serbia, Kosovo, Switzerland, Tanzania and the UK.

The thinking at UNHCR, says Jahanshah Assadi, its rep in Canada, was: ‘If advertising can sell products, why not use its power to help people understand that millions of ordinary people are caught in a nightmare of persecution, violence and personal tragedy?’