Marketing To Demobilize Guerrillas: A Case Study
Last week during our agency ‘golden time’ one of our designers Ash told the team about a particularly interesting podcast she had listened to the night before, describing a campaign launched by Lowe/SSP3 that aimed to encourage FARC guerilla fighters in Colombia to demobilise.
Colombia had been at war with the guerilla group for more than 60 years and even though positive steps had been made towards ending the conflict, a strong guerilla force remained.
When Colombia’s National Ministry of Defence appointed the Bogota-based ad agency, an estimated 8,000 guerillas were still in action, demobilisation rates had begun to slow and terrorist acts were being committed on average once every three days.
The agency were briefed to develop a communications strategy to persuade the guerillas to demobilise. The challenge was influencing guerrilla fighters with ingrained behaviours and minimal education in remote locations, to disband from a life of fighting and return to the safety of home.
The agency began by carrying out focus groups with former guerillas, gleaning everything they could from their target audience about life for the soldiers and what ultimately influenced them to leave.
“The idea for ‘Operation Christmas’ arose from insight we gathered from our ongoing research: that Christmas is when many feel more likely to demobilise because it is such an emotional time. The potential to use trees in the jungle as a media channel by turning them into Christmas trees was identified quickly” – Jose Miguel Sokoloff, President and Chief Creative Officer, Lowe/SSP3
Nine 75-foot trees located by jungle paths used by guerrillas were decorated with lights and a Christmas message urging guerrillas to come home ‘If Christmas can come to the jungle, you can return home for Christmas.’ The message was triggered by motion sensors revealing the illuminated message, creating an instantly personal connection which each individual who crossed it’s path. These trees were a tantalising taste of christmas. Even though not all the soldiers came across the trees for themselves, even the folklore surrounding these symbolic trees was enough to persuade some to return home.
The Operation Christmas campaign ultimately encourage 331 guerillas to de-mob during the period it ran – a marked improvement on the demobilisation rate two years earlier which had fallen 24% year on year in 2009. Anecdotal evidence suggested the campaign also helped demobilising guerrillas feel a greater part of society while military personnel and the wider population viewed guerrillas as human – a factor that has helped smooth their reintegration into society. The campaign also secured Lowe SSP3 the only D&AD Black pencil awarded in 2012.
In a later stage of the campaign, Operation Rivers of Light, the agency worked closely with the military using its Army Radio service to invite people from across the country with a friend or relative who was a guerrilla to send a Christmas message. Each of the 6,823 messages received were contained within a waterproof, airtight Christmas ball floated down the rivers guerillas regularly used, released where known currents would take them to guerrilla camps.
The result was that 180 guerillas demobilised between December and January 2012. One notable development on 23rd December 2011 was the demobilisation of a group of ten people including a Senior Chief who was one of FARC’s main bomb makers.
More recently, Operation Bethlehem saw powerful beacon lights placed in key town plazas close to guerilla camps, which illuminated the sky every night, giving the demobilizing guerrillas a direction to go to when they escape from their camps at night. In addition, over 10,000 LED lights were dropped by the Army on foot and from helicopters along key Guerrillas routes in the jungle, designed to guide the guerrillas. The agency also installed glow in the dark billboards carrying the following message: “Guerrilla, Follow the Light” and produced radio broadcasts inviting the families to tell their guerrilla relatives to demobilize by following the lights in Christmas time.
The sheer scale of the production on this was campaign incredible, let alone the level of creativity. We loved that each project developed and built on the lessons and successes of strategy before.
If you want to learn more about this project, check out the D&AD write up here.
Photo credits: D&AD
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