This story is part of Fast Company’s Most Creative People in Business 2022. Explore the full list of innovators who broke through this year—and had an impact on the world around us.
On February 24, all day-to-day work at Kyiv-based ad agency Banda stopped. Russia had invaded Ukraine, and business could not go on as usual. After spending a few days in shock (and helping coworkers and his own family move abroad), cofounder and chief creative officer Pavel Vrzheshch, who stayed in Kyiv, says that he and his team made a decision: “We needed to transform from a creative agency to creative forces for Ukraine, to start to do everything as creative warriors.” Before the war, Banda, which was founded in 2011 and has around 80 employees in Kyiv and Los Angeles, was doing work for brands, such as Uber, Netflix, Pepsi, Spotify, and the National Art Museum of Ukraine. After the invasion, it shifted to creating information campaigns aimed at the Russian people, using Facebook, Instagram, and other platforms to show that cities were being bombed, Russian soldiers were dying, and that this wasn’t what Russian authorities called a “a special operation.”
Vrzheshch wanted to raise more than just awareness. “We started to think about promoting Ukraine as a brand,” he says. “We understood that victimhood would be all over the news already. We wanted to promote Ukraine in a way that can live beyond the war. Someday the war will be over, and we have a huge opportunity to use this attention to build new relationships, and new interest in our country.”
The result was the “Be Brave Like Ukraine” campaign, which Vrzheshch showed first to Ukraine’s Ministry of Digital Transformation, and eventually to President Zelenskyy, who wanted to launch it widely. In an address to the world in April, Zelenskyy announced, “This is our brand. This is what it means to be us. To be Ukrainians. To be brave.”
The campaign is currently running in the United States, U.K., Poland, Germany, Italy, Austria, Netherlands, Canada, Spain, Denmark, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Romania, Bulgaria, Sweden, Switzerland, and Norway, all on donated media space through partnerships with global media agencies Publicis Groupe, Dentsu, and OMD. Each ad displays a URL with downloadable layouts of posters, stickers, and merchandise to use and spread the word—more than 10 thousand people have done so thus far.
In the last few months, Vrzheshch has led the agency in returning to some client work, particularly for Ukrainian companies looking to expand into the international market.