At the Ad Council, the majority of our campaigns are sponsored by non-profit organizations or government agencies. But on rare occasions, we identify a need so pressing and timely that we determine it merits a PSA campaign, even without a sponsor. It becomes a labor of love for the Ad Council.
The Embrace Refugees campaign is one such campaign. There are nearly 20 million refugees worldwide. In 2016, the United States will admit 85,000 refugees for permanent resettlement, including 10,000 Syrians. A major resettlement priority is to reunite families; in the last 10 years, 60% of all refugees admitted into the U.S. have been women and children.
The goal of the campaign is to encourage Americans to be more welcoming and accepting of refugees who were recently relocated to the U.S. The campaign website EmbraceRefugees.org helps dispel myths and misperceptions, and connects users with local resources to assist refugees in their communities.
To make this launch successful, Embrace Refugees collaborated with a number of content creation partners including Upworthy, crowd-sourcing site Tongal, and the visual storytelling platform Viewfind, who created a compelling story featuring a Syrian refugee family who has resettled in Modesto, California. We spoke with Zheng Huang, CEO of Viewfind, to reflect on his participation in this campaign and the ever-growing importance of storytelling and content creation in the communications world.
Ad Council: What made you want to get involved in the Embrace Refugees campaign?
Zheng Huang: I’m a first-generation immigrant myself. This country wasn’t just built on immigrants, but on immigrants escaping, in many instances, the situation they were coming from, to try to create a better world in this new world. This was true for the Puritans, Irish-Americans, a whole swathe of immigrant populations that came and made this country a better place. That cycle continues, and I think in many ways we have to be reminded of our history, because that’s what makes America special and such a unique and amazing place.
AC: How do you think this particular story could help inspire people to embrace refugees?
ZH: The key is that it’s twofold. We wanted to feature both the refugee family and also the accepting nature of America, where you have all these volunteer organizations that have decided to help them out.
There’s so much talk today about “Who’s taking this, who’s taking that,” but we don’t talk enough about how what makes America special is also the giving. There’s so much giving here, on both sides. Giving their energy, their time, their love, and also their mutual dedication to making each other better. That’s the unique angle that makes this story heartwarming and different.
AC: Your tagline is “Connecting People Through Visual Storytelling.” Why do you think visual storytelling is particularly valuable in the advertising/communications world today?
ZH: Humans are first and foremost visual creatures. And we’re connected by stories. Today, in this world of social and mobile, the way we communicate as individuals is to show snapshots of our lives, our stories, on a regular basis. So for brands to reconnect and make deeper connections on social and mobile, what you really need is high-quality visuals—because our attention span is short—but also authentic storytelling. That combination is what we at Viewfind believe to be visual storytelling.
AC: “Authenticity” is a buzzword in media today. How does Viewfind create authentic stories that can break through and connect with readers in a meaningful way?
ZH: We work with the largest network of photojournalists in the world. They get to know their subjects, so they feel comfortable enough that the photojournalists become “invisible” and can capture people at their most real. That’s the crux of it. Not just that they take more beautiful pictures than anyone else, but that they have been trained, and truly believe in, finding that extraordinary story through the lives of ordinary people. By getting to know those people, they become invisible, so they can capture the most authentic and human stories.
AC: How does storytelling connect people to social causes?
ZH: Nowadays anybody can create content, and we’re inundated by it. But high-quality content, that’s what people are increasingly demanding. Because there’s just not enough time to consume all the content that’s out there, and a lot of consumers are having image fatigue, because there’s just too much. But high-quality images can break through. Anyone can take a selfie, but people still remember an iconic image like the Syrian boy on the beach that helped change national policy.
AC: Do you have any dream projects you’d like to work on?
ZH: I grew up watching Smokey Bear commercials from the Ad Council. I’d be very excited to take that one to the next level and maybe showcase how real people lived through that, forest rangers who help prevent forest fires, or even a story of a logger or a scientist that goes and checks out these burned out forests and sees the aftermath. There’s so many amazing stories that go beyond the slogan and make people fully understand what it truly means to support your environment, support your community, and potentially change habits.
Thank you to Viewfind and all of our partners on this campaign for helping us share this important message. You can read Viewfind’s story about the Al-Jawarba family here, and learn more about refugees in America at EmbraceRefugees.org.