Ideas That Inspire

It’s not every day that an agency gets an assignment to celebrate a country’s new beginning. But Fisnik Ismail’s agency, Ogilvy in Kosovo, did not actually have the official government assignment to commemorate the Serbian province’s independence earlier this year. So 10 days before the historic day, the agency partner and executive creative director embarked on an ambitious plan to get in on the action.

“It was all over the news that the government had about 1 million euros for the Independence Day celebration,” says Ismail. “We knew if we could come up with something interesting, they would probably use it.”

With just over a week to come up with a concept and execute it, the agency designed and began building a 10-foot-high, 79-foot-long, 3-foot-deep, 9-ton metal sculpture spelling the word “Newborn.” Two letters into the build, it pitched the committee in charge of the celebration.

“The minute they saw it they approved it,” says Ismail. “They loved the idea.”

On Feb. 17, the sculpture — created in English to send a global message and painted yellow to reflect the color of the new flag — was unveiled to the cheers of thousands. The first people to sign were the president and prime minister. “It was very beautiful, a great feeling,” says Ismail.

A silver Clio winner in environmental design, the “Newborn” sculpture was one of several projects honored at the recent Clio Festival that not only solved client problems but motivated human behavior in significant ways. A pro-bono campaign for the Prodis Foundation, an organization that helps people with Down syndrome lead independent lives, from Vitruvio Leo Burnett in Madrid, Spain, was shortlisted in Content & Contact. And a pro-bono effort to raise awareness for missing soldiers in Israel won a gold Clio in the Content & Contact competition. This week, Adweek launches a monthly feature that takes a closer look at ideas such as these that through determination and creativity create change.

The “Newborn” sculpture, created by the agency before it even knew it would get a paying assignment, is now a permanent fixture in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, and has been signed by more than 150,000 people. “This is made of metal for one reason; it’s meant to stay there,” says Ismail. “Now it has become a monument as well as a tourist attraction.”

In the case of the Prodis Foundation project, the Leo Burnett agency decided that instead of creating advertising that told the public that people with Down syndrome are more capable than commonly believed, it would show it by turning over the ad to their client’s clients.

“We spent a week at the foundation, talking to the teachers and to the kids themselves,” says Rafa Anton, executive creative director of Vitruvio. “When we came back, we started working on ideas and we thought we needed to show exactly what we experienced. The best idea was letting them do their own advertising.”

The agency went back to the foundation with cameras in hand and began filming. The entire experience — from briefing the students on the assignment during a surprise visit to one of their classrooms to creating and finishing their spot — was recorded and edited into commercials and a 25-minute documentary, The Story of a Beautiful Ad, that aired on prime-time Spanish TV.

“They were really excited. One of the kids said, ‘I’m going to be on TV, and I’ll finally get a boyfriend,'” says Anton. “This was a big decision, this had to be real. We could not let them down.”

Anton knew the kids had the skills to handle the production of the ad, but “we didn’t know how much of an idea they could come up with,” he says.

To the surprise of the creative team, they decided they wanted to cast themselves as superheroes in a movie trailer called “I Also Can.” Much like any typical creative team, they debated. One pitched the idea of casting a 5-year-old to represent the collective; another suggested making himself a mailman because he was very fast.

“You can see they had the pride of their ideas and were pushing for their ideas to get produced,” he says. “And like any creative, sometimes we want something out of the blue, just because.” One girl insisted they needed a celebrity to appear in the commercial and they got one, a Latin singer, Carlos Baute, cast as a bodyguard.

The kids were responsible for it all, from wardrobe to voiceover and musical choices. “After working with them for eight months, we forgot totally that we were dealing with someone who has a problem,” says Anton.

And that is exactly the point the project intended to make to the world at large. “This campaign is pure demonstration,” he adds.

The demo worked. The campaign received a groundswell of publicity for the foundation, and the kids were the stars of the media campaign. Many were hired after the foundation held special screenings to expose companies to the group. Four have landed administrative jobs at companies such as real estate company Metrovacesa and security firm Prosegur, and three have been hired at production companies.

“I applaud the bravery of the idea. It’s not advertising for me; it’s almost like a human act, rather than an ad,” says Mark Tutssel, chief creative officer of Leo Burnett Worldwide, Chicago. “This was something that was clearly designed to change the mind-sets of people who believe these children are limited by their tragic disabilities, and the creativity that resides in every human being came to the fore. Their brilliant creativity changed human behavior and touched the hearts of an entire nation.”

Getting an entire nation to get behind a cause sounds like an impossible feat, but Shalmor Avnon Amichay/Y&R in Tel Aviv, Israel, and its digital arm, Y&R Interactive, were determined to shut down the Web on the anniversary of the kidnapping of three still-missing Israeli soldiers. “The families asked us to do something so that all of the Israeli community will remember,” says Eran Gefen, CEO of Y&R Interactive.

As the anniversary of the kidnappings approached, “the families felt it was going to be another day,” explains Gideon Amichay, CCO of SAA/Y&R. “They felt there was going to be nothing.”

Instead, on July 12 at 9:05 a.m., the time the soldiers were abducted, all leading Israeli Internet sites blacked out their pages for five minutes to instead run a message reminding people that the soldiers were still missing. When visitors went to a site, they found a page that looked like a standard error message with the line “The soldiers cannot be found” and a link to the Keren Maor Foundation, where visitors can learn more.

The effort came together quickly. Two days before the anniversary date, the agency sent letters to the top 100 Web sites in the country. The letter explained where the media organizations could download art if they wanted to participate. Within hours, several signed on and it snowballed. “It became one, then three, then five and 10,” explains Amichay. Even Google agreed to participate. Then Amichay asked, “Why not TV?” Next the country’s largest TV station, Channel 2, joined in the five-minute blackout.

“It was amazing, but with the right cause and the right idea and probably the right environment, everybody will be aboard,” says Gefen. “It amazes us to see so many other sites that [participated] without us even asking.”

The campaign did what it was intended to do, says the Tel Aviv team. And it did it with no money spent. Sixty-five percent of the population in Israel became aware of the project, either by encountering it live or through press coverage. “We stopped the medium that never stopped,” says Amichay. “Sometimes the lack of content can create the largest content ever.”