5 Powerful and Creative Human Rights Ads

Ads are so ingrained in most cultures, we aren’t always aware of them. Sometimes, they’re obvious as spots on the radio, before a Youtube video, and on TV. Other times, they’re more subtle and placed strategically into movies or blended into a busy city environment. Human rights organizations use ads to draw a person’s interest and raise awareness of an issue. They want to ignite a spark in people and encourage them to support the organization’s goal. The most powerful ads are the ones that embrace creativity in unexpected ways. Here are five of the best:

“The Autocomplete Truth” campaign

Organization: UN Women | Year: 2013

Developed by Memac Oglivy and Mather Dubai for UN Women in 2013, this web/print ad campaign used Google to demonstrate the need for women’s rights. The one-page ads put phrases from Google’s autocomplete feature over different women’s faces. The autocomplete filled in a variety of offensive and negative stereotypes about women, such as “women shouldn’t…vote.” The goal of the ads was to show that while women have broken barriers, the popular understanding of women is still saturated with inequality. The suggestions that come up with autocomplete are based on a few factors, including common and trending searches. Using autocomplete is a very creative, visually-impactful way to get a conversation going.


UN Women turned the campaign into a video, using clips from women’s history and then displaying Google’s autocomplete statements. The organization suggested using the autocomplete feature yourself. Now, Google says it tries to remove search predictions that are “hateful” against groups and individuals.

Amnesty International Indonesia’s Signature Poster Campaign

Organization: AI | Year: 2019

Amnesty International began with signature campaigns. Today, they still rely on this simple, but effective method. To encourage young people to get involved, Amnesty International Indonesia worked with agency Grey Indonesia. Their posters focus on three human rights issues: child marriage, gender-related persecution, and suppression of freedom of expression. Using single-line illustrations, a person’s signature links two images. The first image represents the issue – i.e. a child in a wedding dress – while the second represents freedom – the child playing with a balloon. The text on the poster reads: “Your signature can free Indonesia from child marriage/gender-related persecution/violations of freedom of expression.”

The posters were put up around the Amnesty International office and the surrounding area, which was a very popular spot for young people. The goal was for the posters to end up in other places frequented by young Indonesians, including art galleries and cafes. This ad is a great example of a simple, beautiful design used for maximum impact.

“Only for Children”

Organization: Aid to Children and Adolescents at Risk Foundation | Year: 2013

This ad campaign took creativity to a different level, creating a visual illusion with powerful results. A Spanish organization, the Aid to Children and Adolescents at Risk Foundation (ANAR) teamed up with ad agency GREY Spain to send their message. Adults see one version of the poster while kids see another. How? Using lenticular printing, the poster shows different images depending on the angle. Anyone taller than 4-feet, 5-inches sees a sad child with the text, “Sometimes, child abuse is only visible to the child suffering it.” Anyone under that height sees a picture with tell-tale bruises and injuries. The text is different, too. It says: “If somebody hurts you, phone us and we’ll help you.” The foundation’s phone number is also included.

In this ad, the high-tech isn’t a gimmick. The foundation hoped that kids, who may be standing right next to their abuser, would feel seen and motivated to call the number. This is an example of an organization using an ad not only to raise awareness of an issue but to reach out to those directly affected by it.

“2100 in 2010”

Organization: Human Rights Watch | Year: 2010

In June 2010, Human Rights Watch and ad agency JWT developed a powerful way to raise awareness about political prisoners in Burma. They set up an art installation made of miniature prison cells in New York’s Grand Central Station. Each cell contained a picture of one of the 2100 political prisoners in Burma at the time. The bars were made from detachable pens. People were encouraged to remove the pens and sign a petition asking Burma’s military government to free the prisoners. A highly-interactive ad, it represented how something as simple as a signature could help free someone from unjust imprisonment.

The ad resonated with people. Thousands of signatures were collected. JWT was honored with six international advertising awards, including a Grand CLIO in Environmental Design. The “2100 in 2010 campaign” shows that organizations don’t need to limit themselves to print or web campaigns.

“Malak and the Boat”

Organization: UNICEF | Year: 2016

One of the most powerful ads in recent times, “Malak and the Boat” is one animated video from a campaign called “Unfairy Tales.” Based on the true stories of children escaping conflict, “Malak and the Boat” tells the tale of a seven-year-old fleeing Syria by sea. Without knowing what the story is about, it starts like a traditional fairy tale. Things take a turn when it becomes clear what’s going on. The last shot is especially powerful: it shows the real Malak introducing herself.

UNICEF developed the campaign with agency 180LA, which gave “Malak and the Boat” to House of Colors. Andre Holzmeister is credited as the writer and director. He also completed all the CGI by himself in five weeks. UNICEF and 180LA won the Cannes Grand Prix for Good for the campaign.

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About the author

Emmaline Soken-Huberty

Emmaline Soken-Huberty is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon. She started to become interested in human rights while attending college, eventually getting a concentration in human rights and humanitarianism. LGBTQ+ rights, women’s rights, and climate change are of special concern to her. In her spare time, she can be found reading or enjoying Oregon’s natural beauty with her husband and dog.