Why David&Goliath Built a Website That’s 9 Miles Long

Five-hour scroll shines a light on kids in Sierra Leone

Walking nine miles to school every day, through hellish heat and merciless monsoons, past poisonous snakes, swatting away mosquitoes that carry malaria, dodging human traffickers along the way.

Sadly, this is a daily routine for many kids in Sierra Leone. The West African nation is in dire need of new schools, forcing youngsters, particularly those in poor rural areas, to walk for hours on dangerous dirt roads to just attend classes. They often lack fresh water or food. Many walk barefoot.

Hopefully, they won’t have to endure such treacherous treks for much longer, thanks to the efforts of nonprofit groups like Shine On Sierra Leone, which is working to build schools and make education more accessible.

To raise awareness and funds, Shine On teamed with David&Goliath for a campaign that puts the plight of Sierra Leone’s kids into stark perspective. Its centerpiece is a website that’s nine miles long and takes more than five hours to scroll through, roughly the same time it takes some kids in Sierra Leone to walk to school on a typical day.

“The inspiration behind the ‘9 Mile Scroll’ came from the children whose stories we heard while researching this project,” agency creative director Greg Buri tells AdFreak. “When we found out that they walk up to nine miles to school one way, daily, the fact just stuck with us. Then we asked ourselves, when was the last time we walked nine miles for anything? And how could we contextualize the distance so others can relate to the extreme lengths these kids go for an education?”

On the site, users join an ever-expanding group of kids as they begin their journey just before daybreak. Each mile marker features a potential pitfall. At Mile 2, for example, deadly snakes cross the students’ path, while Mile 7 introduces “Adults: the Most Dangerous Predator,” a reference to the local sex trade.

The Mile 4 marker reads, “Insert New School Here.” So, an eight-mile daily round trip—on foot—would come as a RELIEF. Consider that the next time you’re commuting to work in your air-conditioned minivan, blasting books on tape and using some fancy real-time GPS app to avoid traffic jams.

Conveniently, the site lets users skip quickly ahead. The kids don’t have that luxury.

“If you held your finger down on the arrow, it would take approximately 5 hours and 15 minutes,” says Buri. “Then, you’d likely have to ice your finger for roughly the same amount of time.”

“Children around the world endure journeys beyond our imagination on the quest for an education,” says Shine On founder Tiffany Persons. In Sierra Leone, “although the distance varies from student to student based on the location of village—some walk five miles, some walk nine miles—one thing remains the same: The thirst for education is powerful and fuels them to walk whatever the distance for the opportunity to learn.”

Awa Kamara, a native Sierra Leonean who now lives in Austria, says “9 Mile Scroll” brought back vivid memories. “It made me cry,” she says. “I used to walk alone to school and back home, wondering where my mom and dad were. Back then, I was living with my aunty, without my parents … I personally forgot about all those lonely, long and scary walks.”

While the basic approach is similar to other “endurance” campaigns—such as U.S. Cellular’s seven-hour preroll ad from last year—”9 Mile Scroll” seems especially apt at conveying the tedium, fatigue and danger faced by those it seeks to help. Here, the length serves as a serious, relatable metaphor, rather than a gimmicky diversion.

“Though a simple concept, it was technically challenging,” Buri says. “Firstly, we needed footage from the walk itself that would provide an authentic experience for the user, so we partnered with a small camera unit in Sierra Leone and had them film the walk with the kids. Secondly, nine continuous digital miles is a lot harder to piece together than nine actual miles out in the real world. Let’s just say, the developers had to double as mathematicians in order to accurately scale the walk and link it to scrolling.”

Other elements designed to drive folks to the site include posters and billboards with headlines such as, “They put more miles on their feet than you do on your car,” “Help us bring education 19,008 steps closer” and “Put yourself in the shoes of one of the few children lucky enough to have a pair.”

Additionally, nine global influencers—including Zoe Kravitz (@zoeisabellakravitz), Rosario Dawson (@rosariodawson) and Nura Afia (@nuralailalov)—joined the march to improve the kids’ lives by tagging each other in consecutive Instagram posts.

Agency: David&Goliath, LA
Founder & Chairman: David Angelo
Chief Creative Officer: Bobby Pearce
Creative Director/Copywriter: Greg Buri
Creative Director/Art Director: Raul Garcia
Senior Designer: Katherine Ahn
Associate Creative Directors: Bernice Chao, Chris Mead
Group Account Director: Stacia Parseghian
Associate Head of Strategy: Kristen Knape
Account Supervisor: Lauren Gluck
Senior Project Manager: Nita Smith

Digital Analytics Manager: Shaun Jacobs
Senior Social Media Strategist: Natalie Gomez
Junior Social Media Strategist: Noelle Suarez

Director of Digital Production: Peter Bassett
Senior Digital Producer: Noah Luger
Senior Developer: Ben Smith
User Experience Design: John Randall
Developer: Mariano Echegoyen
Sr Digital Designer: Tim Hagan
Digital Designer: Meagan Steincamp

Mix Facility: Lime Studios
Audio Engineer: Peter Lapinski
Executive Producer: Susie Boyajan

Editorial House: Spinach LA
Editor: Juan Pablo Digenio
Managing Director: Adam Bright
Executive Producer: Jonathan Carpio

@DaveGian davegia@hotmail.com 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.