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'Mothers' Voices' Ad Campaign in Columbia

NPR's radio show This American Life ran a segment about a marketing executive from Colombia named Jose Miguel Sokoloff. The government of Columbia hired Jose to run an ad campaign that would convince leftist guerrilla rebels to demobilize and reenter society. In 2010 Jose and his team ran a campaign called "Operation Christmas," but they saved their most effective ad campaign for last. After three Christmas ad campaigns, due to political changes [Jose] and his team knew they had to try something new. In 2012, the two warring sides began peace talks that seemed very promising. So the question was no longer: Is this a winnable war? but this: Since the war is probably going to end, will my community back home take me in again? Will my family still accept me?

And that's when they dropped probably their biggest emotional bomb, a campaign they called simply "Mothers' Voices." They found 37 mothers of guerrilla fighters who were willing to give them pictures of those fighters as children.

Jose said,

And it was important that they gave us pictures of the kids when they were small, because in order to protect them, we needed to make sure that only the person in the picture would be able to recognize himself. And the message was, "Before you were a guerrilla, you were my child. Come back home. I'm waiting for you."

They printed up thousands of these posters and hung them in towns that the guerrillas moved through and nailed them to trees as well. With a simple, moving focus, the "Mothers' Voices" proved you don't have to do something huge to win someone over. In this case, you just needed a mom and her love for her wayward child.

Adapted from Ira Glass, "The Poetry of Propaganda," This American Life (12-18-15)

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