J. Walter Thompson to Produce Anti-Migrant Campaign for Hungarian Government

By Patrick Coffee 

The nation of Hungary has an illegal migrant problem, and its government has turned to J. Walter Thompson Budapest for assistance.

As noted in many news publications, the Hungarian government is currently “overwhelmed” by a flood of refugees, many of whom are fleeing war-torn countries like Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan in hopes of making it to Germany for promised asylum. The problem was illustrated in a particularly disheartening way by the recent discovery of 71 bodies in a truck found outside Vienna.

Now the government in Budapest has hired JWT to deliver a message to migrants who may violate its immigration laws: stay out of Hungary. The news earned a mention on NPR this morning in case you want to peruse some comments far worse than any you’ll read on this site.


The work will include billboards, flyers and placements in local papers in Syria and Afghanistan in an effort to reach the would-be refugees before they attempt to travel through Hungary. The editor of local magazine Kreativ tells us that the news (which his publication covered here) has left many in the industry “quite shocked.”

A J. Walter Thompson spokesperson referred us to two statements published by the Hungarian government today.

The first of those statements notes that the government is “launching an information campaign combating illegal immigration,” describing the project as “short but focused”:

“…announcements in given local languages will be placed in leading newspapers in countries of origin and transit countries most associated with illegal migration. The information campaign will also feature billboards, flyers and a multilingual online platform.”

The statement goes on to say that, while legal immigrants will be dealt with “equitably,” all those entering the country illegally “will be subjected to the full rigour of the legal procedures available to the Government.”

As reported on NPR, some political commenters seem to think that the campaign will tie migrants to terrorism and encourage more xenophobia, but the Hungarian government oddly characterizes related news reports as an attempt to discredit JWT. From the second part of the statement released earlier today (emphasis ours):

“So far this year similar campaigns focusing on Kosovo have been launched by Austria and Germany, also with the involvement of international advertising agencies. As a result of the German campaign, the number of applications from Kosovo has decreased considerably.

That campaign was prepared by the media agency Carat, part of the Dentsu-Aegis Network, which was not subjected to a deliberate and unjustified smear campaign of the kind which has now been launched against J. Walter Thompson.

The government positions the campaign as a way to discourage “criminal groups which profit from the smuggling of migrants” like the five individuals arrested earlier this week for (allegedly) participating in the operation that led to the discovery of the bodies in Austria.

The statement also calls the work “not insulting, but informative.” Some people obviously see things differently.