Patriotic People Are Shocked to Learn Where They Really Came From in This Viral Ad

Travel site uses DNA to uncover their real histories

"There would be no such thing as extremism in the world if people knew their heritage."

So says Aureile, one of the teary-eyed subjects in "The DNA Journey," a stirring campaign from Danish travel site Momondo that's become a surprise viral hit, tallying millions of global views in just a few weeks (the lion's share for its centerpiece five-minute video).

Created with DNA testing service AncestryDNA, ad agency &Co and production house Bacon, the initiative focuses on 67 very diverse people who, at the outset, think they know a thing or two about their heritage, and some of whom hold strong views (read: prejudices) about other nationalities. Many of their expectations are upended, however, when they receive the results of DNA tests that determine their true genetic origins. 

"The idea at the heart of our campaign is that there are more things uniting us than dividing us," Momondo rep Lasse Skole Hansen tells AdFreak. "Our hope is that by showing the diversity in each one of us, we can break down some barriers between people."

For example, at the start of the social experiment, a young man named Jay says, "I'm proud to be English. My family have served and we've defended this country," adding—after some prompting—"I'm not a fan of the Germans."

A young woman, Ellah, presents a picture of her mother in traditional Kurdish garb and admits, "I have this side of me that hates Turkish people," quickly adding a qualifier: "Not people! But the government!"

Aureile, meanwhile, believes she is 100 percent French, though she professes an affinity for Brits and admits she'd love to be Italian, "because they're super fiery and crazy and loud."

Watch the clip below before reading further:

"The film shoot was a very emotional experience for everybody involved—not just the participants but also the crew, the client and the agency," says &Co creative director Robert Cerkez. "We were overwhelmed by how deeply affected a lot of the participants got and how brave they were as they shared their personal stories."

That Ellah discovered a cousin among the test participants was clearly a transformative moment that couldn't have been more moving or unexpected had it been scripted.

A separate video explores the revelation that Jay is only 30 percent English—and much to his chagrin, 5 percent German:

Aureile, meanwhile, is stunned to learn she has no French ancestry whatsoever, but mainly British and Greco-Italian lineage:

Because the videos tout a travel company, they tie in with an ongoing Momondo contest that invites folks to take DNA tests. The grand prize, worth about $17,000, is a trip to all the countries from which they originate, and runners-up will be sent to one of the countries in their DNA chains.

"When done right, traveling can break down our mental borders," says Cerkez. "If we are open the world, it can change the way we look at others—and ourselves."

Overall, it's a compelling piece of branded content that transcends its marketing mission, especially at a time when there's so much racial division and violence in the world.

At one point, Aurelie suggests DNA tests "should be compulsory," noting that truth can be a powerful weapon against ignorance, just as self-awareness can deepen our connection to others.

"We hope viewers will stop to think for just a second and reflect on the weird and wonderful fact that despite all our differences, we also have something in common," Cerkez says. "[Such thoughts are] nice, somewhat comforting and maybe even really important to be reminded of. We really hope that the film will evoke the viewer's curiosity. Think about how rare it is that we are given the chance to learn something new about ourselves."


Project: Momondo DNA Journey

Production Company: Bacon, HC

Director: Jeppe Rønde

Executive Producer: Mette Jermiin

Production manager: Ditte Odgaard

Director of Photography: Magnus Jønck

Lighting: Aslak Lythans

Production Designer: Mads Jørgensen

Wardrobe & make-up: Stine Gudmondsen & Louise Bruun

Sound recording: Lars Gonzalez

Postproduction: Bacon X

Sound Design: Koch @ Bacon

Colorist: Hannibal Lang @ Bacon X

Editor: Simon Borch

Music title: "Troughs"

Music composer: Tom Day

Music recording: Original recording from Chapters EP (2015)

Advertising Company: &Co. Bredgade

Copenhagen, Denmark

Production Name: Momondo / The DNA Journey

Creative Director: Robert Cerkez

Senior Copywriter: Tue Rossel & James Godfrey

Account Director: Thomas Christenson & Trine Eising

Account Manager: Marianne Louise Seirberg

Agency Producer: Arlette Walsøe

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@DaveGian David Gianatasio is a longtime contributor to Adweek, where he has been a writer and editor for two decades. Previously serving as Adweek's New England bureau chief and web editor, he remains based in Boston.