Branding: Saving the world in one easy move

Faced with falling membership, Amnesty has hired a cutting-edge ad agency to persuade the public that anyone can join. Paul McCann assesses the new campaign
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The Independent Online

In a world of acts of terrorism and Terrorism Acts, where we have a Prime Minister "changing the rules of the game" and where 90-day detention, evidence extracted under torture or extradition to despotic regimes is up for discussion, it has been noticeable how little of the debate has been led by the world's oldest human rights organisation.

It has often seemed, during recent years, that organisations such as Liberty or Human Rights Watch have taken the prominent roles in opposing the "war on terror", leaving Amnesty International somewhat sidelined.

At a key meeting last year, the organisation's senior personnel decided that it had to raise its game. As is often the case when an organisation plans reforms, it was felt that one of its first steps should be to clarify its image to the outside world.

For, while Amnesty has increasingly been championing broad-brush issues, from refugee rights to violence against women, its public image has remained tied to the years of The Secret Policeman's Ball and the letter-writing campaigns for prisoners of conscience.

"There was a change in the way we campaigned some time ago," says Andy Hackman, head of branding and events at the organisation. "While protection of individual rights is still fundamental to what we do, we had gone beyond just country campaigns to more thematic issues. Basically, we had expanded from torture, the death penalty and prisoners of conscience to campaign on all of the different parts of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights."

A consequence of this outdated perception of Amnesty as purely a letter-writing, activists' organisation was that the UK membership was becoming limited to older members who had been involved for decades and to those who join and remain committed while at university. Amnesty believes that between these two groups are a lot of busy, working people who don't have the time to campaign to free prisoners, but who agree with the organisation's values.

Setting itself the steep target of lifting its support base from 260,000 members to one million over the next five years, Amnesty last year turned to Mother, the London advertising agency with a growing reputation for both hot creative work and well-developed strategic thinking.

"We didn't so much come up with an advertising idea as a brand idea," says Stef Calcraft, a partner at Mother. "We helped them to distil the essence of all the things that they do and it came out as the wonderfully simple and easy-to-grasp concept of protecting humanity. From there we have a clear proposition, 'protecting the human', that can be used to target, to put it frankly, people who give a shit - people who think there is more to life than just consuming things."

Many ad agencies relish charity accounts - clients with issues they can get their teeth into. Highly creative, often shocking work for a charity makes a nice addition to the agency showreel. However, Mother advised Amnesty that the way to attract these concerned twenty- and thirtysomethings was not to try to use guilt or shock tactics to get them to join up. "People who are looking for more out of life than just working and shopping need to be shown positively that they can make a difference," says Calcraft. "You need to give some hope. People are increasingly immune to the kind of shocker campaigns of the recent past."

And because wristbands have also become overused, Amnesty is instead using a lapel badge, shaped like a small placard, bearing the slogan "Protect the Human" and carrying an access code. The code allows people to register online, place a message on a special website and, crucially for Amnesty, receive future updates or join the organisation.

To promote the 300,000 badges Amnesty wants to sell in the next few months, a poster campaign is already running on the London Underground; postcards will be distributed through cinemas and beer mats will be placed in pubs. "This is just the beginnings of the campaign," says Hackman. "We're sowing the seeds of the 'Protect the Human' slogan. There will be more advertising activity next year to coincide with a major comedy event in April."

In addition to the poster campaign, Mother has produced a two-minute cinema advert on the arms trade, while other elements of the new push will exploit the organisation's traditional supporters in the worlds of music, culture and the arts to generate press headlines. There is an art exhibition around the theme of violence against women and involving work by the artists' collective Guerrilla Girls, Tracey Emin and Alison Lapper. There will also be a series of fundraising music downloads using John Lennon songs.

The April comedy event, which will not be branded as a Secret Policeman's Ball, is being planned with the help of major industry players, such as Tiger Aspect, PBJ Management and Phil McIntyre Entertainment. All of these activities will take place under the umbrella of the "Protect the Human" slogan and are part of an ongoing, long-term drive to reposition the organisation as easy to get involved with.

The initial burst of advertising uses Amnesty members and staff holding "Protect the Human" placards in various situations in their daily lives to try to communicate that supporting human rights doesn't need a huge commitment. "We're trying to tell people that they don't have to go on a demonstration or write letters. They can just as easily support us by going to an event or buying a T-shirt," says Hackman.

"We are convinced that there are a lot of people who haven't currently got a political home, but who want to see the world improve. This campaign is about showing them that they can join a movement for change but they can give their support at a level that suits them."

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