Online campaigns and advertising can be hugely effective in tackling social and political issues. But finding a way to get your message across in a way that people actually want to pay attention to, without making your audience feel like they're being preached to, is incredibly difficult.
Two creatives that have absolutely nailed it are designer Zeynep Orbay (opens in new tab) and writer Macie Soler-Sala (opens in new tab). Both passionate about politics, the duo have created a range of standout side projects, as well as bringing social purpose to big-brand campaigns at Wieden+Kennedy Amsterdam, where they've been based for the past two years.
In late September, they'll be taking to the stage at nocturnal design conference Us By Night (opens in new tab) in Antwerp (find out more about the festival here (opens in new tab)) to reveal their advice for making a statement that people want to stop and listen to. In the meantime, let's take a behind-the-scenes look at some of their most effective projects with a purpose.
01. Spread the love
US Vice President Mike Pence’s birthday falls at the start of June, which also happens to be Pride Month. In this personal project, Orbay and Soler-Sala decided to celebrate the two together. "We thought this would be a great opportunity to turn a day reserved for a man who has spread nothing but hate and intolerance towards the community into a day of love and support for it," says Orbay.
The resulting video is an homage to Marylin Monroe's sultry rendition of ‘Happy Birthday, Mr. President’ to JFK, but with a difference. "We recreated it with a 2019 twist," adds Orbay, "A group of drag queens dressed like the sex symbol herself, singing Pence their sexiest rendition of the song in a way that still feels genuine and full of love."
To give the project extra clout, the pair partnered with six LGBTQIA+ organisations, and encouraged watchers to donate to them on Pence's behalf.
02. Find a new angle
During his 2016 US presidential election campaign, Donald Trump developed a reputation for contradicting himself. "At the time, there were plenty of digital experiences about Trump, which ran the spectrum from fun and playful to mean-spirited," recalls Soler-Sala. "We wanted to create something entirely fact-based, which essentially used his own words against him in a way that was informative, undeniably true and serious in tone."
In Stereotypical Trump (opens in new tab), users are invited to don a pair of headphones and hear the President himself addressing a range of key topics, from the Iraq War to party affiliation, with one statement feeding their right ear and the opposite in their left.
The response to the project was massive. Over just a few days, the site amassed over 750,000 audio plays, 36,000 page visits, with an average dwell time of 2 minutes 45 seconds. "While the big result we were hoping for obviously didn’t happen, here’s to hoping we don’t have to listen to Trump any more after 2020," adds Soler-Sala.
03. Tackle stereotypes
This next project, for W+K, shows how big brands are increasingly using their reach to create positive social impact. This Is Us is a campaign for Nike Women in Turkey, where – as in many places around the world – women are constrained by traditional gender roles and expectations.
"Female athletes in Turkey have always been committed to pursuing their love of sport and fitness while staying true to themselves, despite these barriers and society’s expectations of them as women," comments Orbay. "Our Nike campaign, celebrates the stories of elite and everyday athletes from across Turkey, encouraging women to push beyond their personal barriers and limitations others may place on them."
The design takes stereotypically female scenarios and cleverly segues them into sporting scenes – flour on a woman's hands as she mixes ingredients for baking becomes chalk for weight-lifting, for example. It's a clear and effective way of breaking the barriers between expectation and possibility.
04. Be unignorable
This final project is one that packs a real punch. The Fading News took on the issue of news censorship in Turkey. During the Gezi Park protests, a lack of information on TV meant people turned to the internet to stay informed. The Turkish government was about to pass a law that enabled authorities to erase any online content within four hours, without the need for even a court order.
The duo decided to show the public exactly what the internet would look like under this new law. They partnered with Radikal, on of the biggest newspapers in Turkey. Over the course of three days, all political news stories on the paper's website faded out until visitors were left with a page of censorship.
"It sparked an even larger movement where people started erasing their own content on social media," remembers Soler-Sala. "We reached over 32 million people with no media budget, but most importantly, the president revised the law to make the court order necessary to erase any content on the internet."
What's on the cards at Us By Night?
Us By Night runs from 26-28 September. This is not your typical design event: it's completely nocturnal, with talks starting at 5pm and ending at 11pm.
"I’ve never spoken about my work at such a high-profile event before – to have this opportunity at a place like Us By Night is a huge, night sweat-inducing honour," says Soler-Sala. "I’ve been a very big fan of this festival for a long time and admire so many speakers that will be presenting this year."
"It makes me very happy and excited to be a part of a festival which I’ve always admired, alongside with many great creatives," adds Orbay.
The event will take place at Waagnatie in Antwerp, a city that – despite its relatively humble size – is known for its metropolitan mindset and appetite for innovation. This is the city that brought us Rubens, the Antwerp Six and Luc Tuymans, and it continues to attract creative talent today, with one in six Antwerp enterprises being in the creative sector. What better place for a design festival with a difference? Pick up a ticket here (opens in new tab).