Unicef Drove 27 Empty School Buses Through NYC in Striking Stunt About Kids and War

KBS targets world leaders at UN's General Assembly

Some 27 million children ages 6-15 are currently out of school because of war and conflict, says Unicef. To illustrate that heartbreaking statistic, the nonprofit and agency KBS came up with a haunting metaphor—27 empty yellow school buses parading through the streets of New York City.

As hundreds of political leaders from around the world gathered at the United Nations this week for its General Assembly, the convoy drove from Brooklyn across the Manhattan Bridge, through Times Square and past the organization’s headquarters on the East Side. Banners hanging from the sides of the vehicles bolstered the message, featuring phrases like “Books not bombs.” One offered a particularly pointed argument: “Avoiding land mines shouldn’t be an extracurricular activity.”

A campaign video from KBS suggests the buses did have a single passenger, Syrian refugee Muzoon Almelllehan, whose family fled in 2013 to escape the civil war that has cost some 500,000 lives and displaced an estimated 13.5 million people over the past six years.

“Conflict can take away your family, your friends, your routine, your home and your country,” she says. But “education can never be seen as optional, especially in crises.”

Now 19 years old, Almellehan resumed her schooling while at the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan and has since resettled in the U.K. Unicef says it has received only 12 percent of the funding it needs to provide emergency education for displaced children in 2017.

The campaign’s message—that depriving children of schooling today will only make it harder to build a better world tomorrow (by exacerbating cycles of ignorance, poverty, hate and violence)—is at its core practical, and a well-timed reminder. Much of the attention around the UN gathering has been on President Trump’s first speech to the international body yesterday. His remarks included a harsh warning aimed at North Korea and pointed criticisms of Iran and Venezuela.

More than 264 million students are out of school globally.

The bus stunt relied on a somewhat trollish strategy in its bid for attention, albeit for a worthwhile cause: The General Assembly already has notoriously adverse affect on NYC traffic, due to street closures and an increased police presence. And the convoy couldn’t have helped, seeking to maximize its audience by detouring through Times Square, densely packed with pedestrians and miserably congested by cars even on a good day.

“The coordination of buses traveling together in unison was one of the most challenging aspects of planning, given a large part of the city was on high security alert and shut down for the arrival of Donald Trump and other world leaders,” says Patrick Scissons, chief creative officer at KBS.

Donated digital ad space in Times Square helped amplify the message as the buses passed through. Media agency PCI also worked on the campaign. Greg Hardes directed the videos, arguably the real point of the stunt.

Creative: KBS
Unicef Production Agency: PCI Media Impact
Director: Greg Hardes
Editorial: Saints Editorial
Color: MPC
Audio: Sound Lounge (film) / Honeymix (making of video)
Donated Media: Kinetic

@GabrielBeltrone gabriel.beltrone@gmail.com Gabriel Beltrone is a frequent contributor to Adweek.