Can guerrilla fighters be convinced to lay down their arms with a heartfelt plea that plays to naturally occurring seasonal nostalgia? That’s what Bogota-based advertising agency Lowe-SSP3 is trying to do via “Operation River of Lights.”
Created in partnership with the Colombian Ministry of Defense, the campaign targets the members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia–founded in 1964 and better known as FARC–with personal messages written by Colombians, imploring them to demobilize and return home for Christmas. “We hope the power of the message, or the singularity of the little present that people sometimes included in the message, touches the heart of the guerrilla [who receives it],” says Jose Miguel Sokoloff, chief creative officer of Lowe-SSP3.
Of course, you can’t simply mail these missives to jungle-based rebels, so the agency found a creative means of delivery, encapsulating the letters–as well as trinkets ranging from jewelry to small toys–inside transparent, illuminated plastic balls that Colombia’s military has released into rivers running through FARC territory. (The balls have also been hung from trees in the southwestern region of the country where FARC camps aren’t near water.)
Cynics might think Operation River of Lights–while undeniably touching and well intentioned–is naïve. But, in fact, a 2010 effort hatched by Lowe-SSP3 that was also designed to pull at the heartstrings of the guerrillas–some of whom are just teenagers–yielded results. Labeled “Operation Christmas,” the campaign, which won a Gold Outdoor Lion at Cannes, sent anti-guerrilla contingents deep into the jungle to drape trees with 2,000 LED lights as well as banners encouraging fighters to give themselves up and re-enter society, and more than 300 members of FARC ultimately demobilized, according to Sokoloff. (Over the last decade, FARC’s ranks have fallen from around 20,000 to approximately 8,000.)
“We firmly believe that every demobilized guerrilla is one saved life, and possibly many more if you add the ones he may take in combat. And helping to solve the Colombian conflict is everyone’s responsibility,” says Sokoloff, whose agency has been committed to the cause of FARC demobilization for more than five years. “We help with what we know–communicating.”