‘Sweetie’ for Terre des Hommes: advertising as a force of good

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At one level, advertising is creativity with commerce. The creative ideas developed by ad agencies help businesses drive awareness, sales and build brands. We are all familiar with ads peddling toothpaste, soaps and mundane everyday things. In doing so, advertising comes under the microscope for having to promote controversial categories like fairness creams. Advertising also comes under fire for creating make believe worlds and promoting stereotypes. Amidst all this is the belief that advertising can be a force of good. It can create awareness about causes, change perceptions & behaviours which can positively impact a society. Lifebuoy’s ‘Help A Child Reach 5’ campaign aimed to eradicate preventable deaths from diseases like diarrhoea through teaching lifesaving hand-washing habits. The campaign was launched with an award winning film ‘Gondappa‘ and hand-washing initiatives in Thesgora, a village in Madhya Pradesh, India. The campaign, which won big at the Asian Marketing Effectiveness Awards too, reduced incidence of diarrhea from 36% to 5% in Thesogra.

In this context, it is great to see the one of the D&AD Black Pencil (work that is truly groundbreaking) winners being ‘Sweetie’ – created for Terre des Hommes by LEMZ, Amsterdam. The case says:

Aim: A new phenomenon is spreading like an epidemic: Webcam Child Sex Tourism (WCST). Our aim was to raise global awareness about WCST and pressure all governments to stop predators from committing this crime.

Insight: Men from rich countries pay children in poor countries to perform sexual acts in front of webcams. Police don’t enforce the national and international laws prohibiting WCST because they wait for victims to report the crime before investigating. But child victims of WCST do not report this abuse.

Idea: To raise international awareness, to show how easy it is to catch and identify predators, and to pressure governments to take action, we created ‘Sweetie,’ an interactive 3D model that looks and moves like a real 10-year-old Filipino girl. Over the course of just 10 weeks, we used Sweetie as a disguise to catch in the act and trace the identities of 1,000 online predators from 71 countries. Then we handed those identities and the evidence we collected to Interpol.

Media: We made an online film about our research process, and posted it on the Terre des Hommes Netherlands YouTube channel. Sweetie instantly became world news, earning the campaign free media coverage on every continent. (CNN, NBC, BBC, Al Jazeera, O Globo, Allgemeine Zeitung, El Pais, Le Figaro, Newsweek, etc.).

Results: Over 1 billion people saw the Sweetie campaign, putting the problem of WCST firmly on the global agenda. The global press coverage and heightened public awareness mobilized citizens to share the story and pressure their governments to take steps to stop online predators. Since the release of our campaign, the Philippines National Police announced that WCST is the country’s number 1 crime to fight. The Argentinian Parliament increased mandatory penalties for perpetrators of WCST. But what we’re most proud of: Police in the UK, US, Canada, Australia, Belgium, Ireland, and South Africa have arrested predators based on evidence we collected in this campaign and dozens of child victims have been rescued in the Philippines. This is just the beginning as governments around the world are taking concrete steps to stop and punish online predators.

Agency: LEMZ

What is refreshingly different about this campaign? The sheer audacity of it – going beyond merely creating a 30-second ad and actually doing something. To go on to public chat rooms and interact with 20,000 predators is quite something. Another aspect of the campaign is the changing role of an advertising agency – from one who dreams up messages and says something to an entity which partners the client brand in doing something, with digital technology at the core.

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