These Striking Ads Juxtapose Olympic Heroics With Refugees’ Struggle to Survive

Swimming, jumping and running for more than a medal

Headshot of Angela Natividad

Some news both excites and terrifies communities. One such example is winning the bid to host the 2024 Olympics, as Paris learned it did last month.

Such an honor is a mixed blessing, but that’s hardly France’s biggest problem right now. In case anybody forgot, we still have a refugee crisis on our hands.

To this end, human rights organization La Cimade launched “Living Is Winning.” As glorified sports advertising ramps up, the awareness campaign is determined to remind us of the thousands who commit feats of athletic prowess for greater stakes than medals.

Three 30-second ads were created and directed by Josiane Paris’ Valentin Guiod and adam&eveDDB London’s Min-Hyung Choi, with support from Josiane.

“Swim” opens with a close-up of a drenched, tremulating face as crowds cheer on all sides. “In 2024, athletes will swim to win,” it tells us.

A beating heart punctuates the work. As the camera pans out and the cheering fades, the man before us turns out not to be an Olympic swimmer at all. He’s alone, prostrate on a beach, partially covered in a space blanket. And the look we initially mistook for determination becomes abject exhaustion.

“Every day, refugees swim to live,” the ad concludes.

The ads that follow continue in this vein. What’s impressive is how easily the work manipulates our ability to gauge emotion, like an adland version of Magic Eye: Every look can be read from the framework of competitive spirit, until you get context, which changes your reading of that expression forever.

In “Jump,” the look in that first close-up almost seems playful, measuring a friendly foe. How high was his bar set?

As the scene widens, what we see is, of course, not a bar but an apartheid wall.

Last comes “Run,” whose first shot frames the hardened eyes of a woman in hijab. If you didn’t know better, it would be easy to imagine where that hardness comes from: It was only last year that the U.S. saw its first hijab-wearing Olympian, sabre fencing champion Ibtihaj Muhammad.

But there is no Usain Bolt moment here. As the woman collapses, exhausted, other runners divide to pass her by.

“We can never say enough how much force and courage these women and men need to risk their lives in search for a better place beside us, where they hope to live in dignity,” says president Geneviève Jacques of La Cimade. “Protecting human dignity and social inclusion is at the heart of La Cimade’s mission since 1939. Our organization will double our efforts to continue to host, help and support refugees, but also raise awareness of their alarming situation among the wider public.”

Each ad’s description reads, “For all the refugees, living is already winning,” a more elaborate take on the #LivingIsWinning hashtag. It intentionally launched the day after Paris was named host of the 2024 Olympics. On top of a subsite and three films, posters were created with help from award-winning photographer Espen Rasmussen.

“As a photojournalist, my hope and goal is always to open the eyes of the public—to create discussions, raise awareness and inform. To show people’s struggle, but also to show hope,” Rasmussen says. “That is why I provided images from my work to this campaign—so that all of us can learn something and hopefully react, with our mind and heart.”

Tens of thousands of people are still arriving in France each year. In July, the country committed to increase housing for refugees after the mayor of Grand-Synthe, a town not far from Dunkirk, tweeted photos of children living in a nearby refugee camp. France recently also committed to welcome 10,000 refugees from non-E.U. countries.

That’s good news for the people lucky enough to arrive. As “Living Is Winning” illustrates, however, achieving that much is already a feat, and many don’t make it: Just Monday, a boat of Rohingya refugees fleeing Myanmar capsized, leaving at least 12 dead and more missing. Many of the occupants were children.


Client : La Cimade
Agency : Josiane
Creative team : Valentin Guiod (Josiane Paris) and Min-Hyung Choi (adam&eveDDB London)
Head of Agency : Laurent Allias, Baptiste Thiery
Head of production : Laure Castagné
Account Manager : Aida Khalfi

Film credits :
Production : OTSOParis
Production Manager : Maxime Fossen
Production Assistant : Marie-Paule Patole

Film Director : Valentin Guiod
DOP : Elodie Tahtane, Martin Laugery
Camera Assistant : Jodie Arnoux, Raphael Aprikian
Key Grip : Brice Bourdet
Make up artist : Mélanie Rathelot
Fashion : Joana Dacheville, Dabby Naval
Color Grading : Arthur Paux
Music : Edouard Druot,
Equipment : RVZ
Post-production : Delapost
Making-off director : Gladys Peltier
Actors : Salim Fontaine, Leila Sara, Tibo Drouet

Thanks to :
Phillipe Guillermain et l’équipe de RVZ, L’équipe Delapost : Clémence Ripoche, & Cédric Choppin, TSF Marseile & Agnès Rivas, Toute l’équipe du film et ses comédiens, Antoine Coesens, Sara GM, Samira & Stéphane Paquier, Dahouia Maddahi, Thibaut Furic, Amaury Hotier.

@luckthelady Angela Natividad is a frequent contributor to Adweek's creativity blog, AdFreak. She is also the author of Generation Creation and co-founder of Hurrah, an esports agency. She lives in Paris and when she isn't writing, she can be found picking food off your plate.