The United Nations Is Working on the ‘World’s Largest Advertising Campaign’

With the goal of tackling society's greatest challenges in 15 years

Headshot of Kristina Monllos

Outlining goals for the future isn't easy. Outlining goals for the entire world's future? Well, that seems impossible. 

But that's what the United Nations is attempting with its ambitious Sustainable Development Goals—which include ending poverty, ending hunger and achieving gender equality within the next 15 years. And it's asking advertising and media leaders for help.

On Friday the PVBLIC Foundation hosted its second Media for Social Impact summit at the UN Headquarters in New York. Nestled in a packed conference room, industry reps from around the world listened to case studies that could help them craft the "World's Largest Advertising Campaign." With pro-bono work and the right message, the UN hopes the result will be a global call to action to resolve mankind's most challenging modern issues. 

"We need to amplify the effort of engaging and reaching out to people as well as decision makers," said Nelson Muffuh, a head of outreach and stakeholder engagement in the executive office of the UN Secretary-General. "This we hope will lead to contributions of expertise, solutions, networks to help us inspire them to be acting for development objectives."

Last year, PVBLIC and the UN launched the summit to honor game-changing work and spark conversations about global issues. That helped ignite the White House's "It's on Us" campaign by creative agency Mekanism, raising awareness of sexual assault on college campuses. PVBLIC said the campaign is the White House's most successful to date, and the PSA, which features celebrities like Jon Hamm and Kerry Washington, is the most-watched one on YouTube.

"The goal was to, for the first time ever, organize hundreds of powerful media and advertising influencers together and switch the mindset of this group to answer the simple question: 'What if the people in this room collaborated to make a positive impact in the world? What could we accomplish?'" said Jamie Bezozo, a PR rep for Mekanism.

She said the first conference also explored the idea of using sales tactics for social causes and institutions.

This year, the summit focused on creating a September campaign to drive public awareness of the Sustainability Development Goals. The UN is partnering with agencies like Mekanism to create the PSA, and Memac Ogilvy to work on billboards and other out-of-home ads. 

"The campaign, in a way—I'm sure [the UN] wouldn't word it this way—is sort of re-launching what the UN stands for and how the UN helps solve problems in the world," said Jason Harris, president and CEO of Mekanism.

"Last year's summit was about getting everyone into a room and seeing what happens. This year, it's like, let's get everyone in a room and come up with a great PR headline like 'We're launching the world's largest campaign,' and see what that drives from the audience." 

"It's on Us" was presented as an inspirational case study on Friday. Several people—Harris, actress Rose Byrne, and Kyle Lierman, associate director for the Office of Public Engagement at The White House—explained how the campaign quickly garnered attention and inspired American students to get involved in sexual assault prevention. 

That's the kind of awareness the UN wants to harness for its Sustainable Goals. Mitchell Toomey, director of a separate "UN Millennium Campaign," explained during the summit that it can be a challenge. While the United Nations has been working on its Millennium Development Goals for 14 years, there still isn't much awareness.

@KristinaMonllos Kristina Monllos is a senior editor for Adweek.