Responses by Alexander Kalchev, executive creative director, DDB Paris
Background: The French government has a dirty secret. It sells French weapons illegally to foreign governments, such as Yemen and Saudi Arabia, which are then used against civilians. This makes the French government complicit in war crimes. Despite military documents being leaked in 2018, we still needed to make this a widely discussed topic amongst the press and the public.
Reasoning: The French government is quick to brag about its “Made in France” pride, but completely denies accusations of illegal arms sales. So, we decided to draw a parallel between French weaponry and another better-known icon of French savoir-faire: fashion. This enabled us to reach a broader and younger audience that Amnesty International is not usually in contact with, expose the French government’s hypocrisy regarding illegal arms sales, and hijack a key event, Fashion Week, to generate more visibility and conversation.
Challenges: Launching the campaign during Fashion Week was double or nothing. We would either manage to hijack the event and have an impact, or be drowned in the noise of this eventful week. Another challenge was the logistics behind photographing the weapons. We needed to stick as close as possible to reality, with all the complexities this entails, and work closely with Amnesty International’s arms experts.
Favorite details: In 2018, we launched a new brand platform for Amnesty International France around the idea of victory. Breaking with the codes of the NGO category, we managed to produce a positive activism campaign. For this arms campaign, we stayed in the same vein and managed to create conversation amongst the larger public, while avoiding negative emotions like guilt or pity. In two weeks, 18,516 signatures were collected for the petition—a number that some petitions take over a year to reach.
Visual influences: To fully draw the parallel between illegal arms trade and fashion, we needed the visuals to be flawlessly executed like fashion ads. The desired effect was to hook people into the fashion-like universe but as they get closer to the visual, something starts to feel off, allowing our message to land powerfully in people’s minds. It was crucial for the posters to be first perceived as just another fashion campaign. Mous Lamrabat, the photographer, perfectly mixed the codes from the two worlds, weapons and fashion.
Specific demands: We had a lot of constraints, like a low budget, the requirement to stick as closely as possible to real weapons, and respect fashion and luxury codes, while talking about a serious issue. Nothing was easy in this project. But together with Amnesty International France, we believed in the potential of this campaign. It was an arduous process, but we made it!