The United Nations Is Using Facebook Live Filters to Spread a Powerful Humanitarian Message

VML New York’s first work spans TV, out-of-home and digital

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Face-swapping filters and lenses have long been popular as silly, fun graphics used on social media, but the humanitarian arm of the United Nations (or U.N. OCHA) is hoping that the filters will promote a more serious message about what it’s like to live in an area of conflict.

For World Humanitarian Day on Saturday, the U.N. and VML New York are launching one of the first campaigns using Facebook’s recently-launched Camera Effects Studio, the site’s augmented reality platform announced today. The campaign takes advantage of Facebook Live and encourages consumers to overlay a black and white filter with text that scrolls across the screen and tells the story of civilians in areas of conflict. VML has created 10 filters that feature real stories about children, medical workers, sexual violence and aid workers.

Each filter appears for 19 seconds on the screen and users are encouraged to read the story out loud during the broadcast like a teleprompter. Celebrities including Charlize Theron and Michael Douglas (who are both United Nations Messengers of Peace) participated on social media and later today, some of the user-generated clips will be displayed on digital billboards at an event in New York’s Times Square.

“Up until now, these filters have been fairly fun and playful,” said Craig Elimeliah, managing director of creative technology at VML. “When we first started germinating around the idea, it was like, ‘We can flip this on its head and use something that everyone’s using and playing with into something meaningful.’”

“We were challenged to bring the relatability of these messages and people in conflict areas through a digital experience and giving people the opportunity to tell these untold stories—we saw this as a citizen-journalism platform.”

The filter is part of a bigger campaign dubbed #NotATarget that launched last week and is also VML New York’s first work for the organization. A TV and digital out-of-home spot is also in black and white and uses war photos to show “how this ripple effect of debris, concrete and explosions has an impact on civilians, [especially] kids, because their schools also get bombed, hospitals get attacked—nobody ever talks about these people,” said Harsh Kapadia, group creative director at VML.

“If you actually walk into the U.N. building and talk to anybody whose been in those regions, the things you hear [are] things you probably haven’t heard in the news. Or it’s not front-page news—it’s hidden somewhere, you have to find it.”

Out-of-home ads are running in countries including France, Canada and the United Kingdom and the TV spot is airing on CNN, DirecTV, websites and social platforms. There’s also a website where consumers can sign a petition to pledge their support for areas of conflict.

Partners: UNOCHA, VML New York, One Thousand Birds, Frame Store, Jam3, Lightfarm, Clear Channel, Facebook, MediaCom, Cohn & Wolfe.

Client credits:
Maria-Angie Vassallo, UNOCHA, head of campaigns
Karim Saba, UNOCHA, advocacy and campaigns officer
Sara Gilbertz, UNOCHA, digital campaigns officer

VML Credits:
Debbi Vandeven, VML, Global Chief Creative Officer
Mike Wente, VML New York, Chief Creative Officer, North America
Chris Furse, VML New York, Executive Director
Harsh Kapadia, VML New York, Group Creative Director
Craig Elimeliah, VML New York, Managing Director, Creative Technology
Silmo Bonomi, VML New York, Group Creative Director
Kate Boccio, VML New York, Account Director
Cynthia Lin, VML New York, Senior Project Manager
Gabriel Jardim, VML New York, Associate Creative Director / Art Director
Guto Monteiro, VML New York, Associate Creative Director / Copywriter
Duri Lim, VML New York, Art Director
Sarah Bass, VML New York, Copywriter
Mike Breighner, VML New York, Copywriter
Elliot Graham, VML New York, Senior Art Director
Rich Whelchel, VML New York, Associate Copywriter
Ryan Mauro, VML New York, Senior Motion Graphics Designer
Tarini Shrikhande, VML New York, Associate Planning Director
Tamara Lund, VML New York, Senior Producer
Charlotte Ford, VML New York, Account Manager
Hunter Eshelman, VML New York, UX Design
Josh Wolf , VML New York, Director, Technology
Anthony Ramirez, VML New York, Producer
Kate Wadkins, VML New York, Associate Channel Director
Yael Brayer, VML New York, Senior Channel Manager
Nick Centofante, VML New York, Channel Director
Eva Kuczynski, VML New York, Associate Channel Director
Erin Reed, VML New York, Channel Manager

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@laurenjohnson Lauren Johnson is a senior technology editor for Adweek, where she specializes in covering mobile, social platforms and emerging tech.