The United Nations is not necessarily what one would call an accessible organization. Ensconced in a shimmering, fortress-like building in New York, the UN seems like a place where international dignitaries do important work in grand chambers to help those in stricken lands far from our own.
Likewise, World Humanitarian Day, which honors fallen peace workers, seems like something left to the aid agencies and celebrity special envoys because, really, what can a single person do on a day with such lofty goals, about problems that are so vast? Or, more to the point, it’s a day that most people didn’t even know existed.
So how better to change those perceptions than shoot a music video for Beyonce’s "I Was Here" in the UN’s General Assembly chamber, release it in advance of World Humanitarian Day on August 19, and create social media history by orchestrating one billion simultaneous messages on Twitter and Facebook calling for simple acts of kindness?
Created by agency Droga5, the campaign’s goal was to build awareness of World Humanitarian Day and as agency creative chairman David Droga says, "help it rise above the general day to day noise." Starting with mega-superstar Beyonce, who was looking to deepen her relationship with the UN, the campaign was launched on August 2 with a teaser video of the star calling on people to "rise together and do one thing nice for another human being." The video led viewers to www.whd-iwashere.org, an interactive site that allows people to peg their small deeds of compassion to their location.
"The hope, first and foremost, was to put this on people’s radar," says Droga. "Apart from the UN and a few newsreaders who mention this every year, people don’t even know this day exists. It’s also to make people realize it’s not just about volunteering to go and live in the Congo for four years. It’s as much about working a soup kitchen as it is helping an elderly person. Contributing something positive doesn’t have to be a lifelong commitment; it can just be daily gestures. So, it was about giving the whole issue perspective."
To stoke the interest generated with the teaser clip, a moving video for Beyonce’s existing single "I Was Here" (which honestly seems like it could have been created specifically for this campaign) was released. Produced by Ridley Scott Associates and directed by Kenzo Digital and Sophie Muller, the video features a statuesque Bey perched atop the rostrum usually reserved for the President of the General Assembly. A gargantuan sheet then cascades down behind her covering the entire chamber’s back wall with images of humanitarian work projected on it. Members of the UN, media and general public were also invited in to experience this unique performance.
If the video was a high profile anchor to entice an apathetic public, the social media effort was meant to provoke action. Using a platform called Thunderclap—developed by Droga5’s product development studio De De, the campaign enlisted the support of a long list of embarrassingly high-profile celebs to donate their social media followers to the cause. Everyone from Gaga, Bieber, and Rihanna to Oprah, Anderson Cooper, and Michelle Obama agreed to participate in an orchestrated release of the same call-to-action, which was sent to all of their followers. Brands like Coca-Cola and Puma also joined the cause. At 9 a.m. EST on August 19 everyone participating in the effort sent this message: "This World Humanitarian Day I’m doing something good, somewhere, for someone else. Join Me!" The messages directed people to the site to mark their good deed on a global interactive map. In all, over one billion messages were shared at the same time.
Droga says the orchestrated social media experiment was meant to make average people feel like they can make a difference. "One video and a message aren’t going to save everything. But when you say things together, maybe the message will be heard and hopefully will provoke action," he says. "Inherently people are good, and inherently people are distracted and somewhat lazy, so it comes down to how do you get people’s attention."