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Anti-Human Trafficking Campaign

When Virginia’s Office of the Attorney General decided to fight human trafficking in the Commonwealth, they knew they needed a bold attack plan. Unfortunately, human trafficking isn’t just something you see in action movies. It doesn’t just happen in foreign countries, it often extends beyond sex trafficking into forced labor, and it crosses genders, with both males and females being almost equally affected. It was important for this campaign to both offer a lifeline to actual victims and educate the public so they would be able to identify and report suspicious activity that went beyond stereotypes.

Digital ads that read She Needs Your Help, Not Your Money

The challenge

How do you effectively communicate to someone being held against their will? Instead of a typical awareness campaign, trying to reach a broad swath of the general population, our challenge was to reach people who may be actively involved in human trafficking: those that may be held against their will, those who wish to exploit them, and anyone who may come into contact with illegal trafficking activity.

The approach

Almost 50% of the U.S. population lives within a one-day drive of Virginia, making it a notorious focal point for trafficking. Our research indicated that truck stops are a hotbed for this kind of activity so, we targeted mobile phones that were within a quarter-mile of truck stops and rest areas along the major interstates in Virginia. 

Through a series of geo-targeted mobile banner ads, we were able to reach concerned citizens, possible “johns,” victims who have internet-capable mobile phones, etc., to make them aware of the problem and let them know that help is out there. The ads featured direct wording to victims, such as “Are you being held against your will?” in a variety of different languages, including Spanish, Korean, and Vietnamese. Other ads directly addressed exploiters — “She needs your help, not your cash.” We also targeted the top 50 illicit websites in Virginia where potential “johns” could be looking to make the leap from the virtual world into the real world of sex trafficking.

The results

The cutting-edge campaign, which began November of 2015, and ran six months garnered more than 6.8 million impressions across the state of Virginia, resulting in more than 11,600 clicks to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center’s website run by the Polaris Project

Although the campaign only ran for a month and a half during 2015, Virginia had the eighth-highest call volume of all 50 states and Washington, D.C. in 2015, with 624 substantive phone calls, 22 emails, and 33 online tip reports. During the course of the campaign, website traffic from Virginia increased by 54.84%. The campaign exceeded expectations in impressions, results, and awareness for a major societal issue that we all want to see come to an end.

This campaign was recognized with a cadre of local, national, and international awards; the Virginia PRSA Commonwealth Award, the National PRSA Silver Anvil, and the International Advertising Association BrillIAAnce Award for Mobile Marketing.

Due to the success of the 2015 campaign, we were engaged again by the Virginia  General in 2018 to relaunch the campaign with focus on the Hampton Roads region.

Mockup of the Human Trafficking Campaign on phones
3 digital ads for the Human Trafficking Campaign
Billboard that reads If it looks wrong. It probably is.

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