Case Study: Sweetie

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Agency: LEMZ
Client: Terre des Hommes
AwardD&AD Black Pencil D&AD White Pencil / Advertising & Marketing Communications / 2014, D&AD Yellow Pencil / Integrated & Earned Media / Innovative Media / 2014,D&AD Wood Pencil / Digital Marketing / Innovative Use of Technology/ 2014


A digital social good campaign conceived, planned and executed by Amsterdam-based advertising agency Lemz led to the identification of 1,000 paedophiles worldwide, arrests, laws being changed in several countries and praise from the United Nations.

The Brief:

In early 2013, Mark Woerde, co-founder and director of strategy at Lemz, read an article about men who abuse underage girls via webcam in other countries.

Every hour, at least 750,000 men seek underage girls online, paying to watch and direct them performing sex acts in front of webcams. Tens of thousands of their victims live in developing countries. Yet though a fast-growing 'industry', webcam sex tourism was not widely recognised as a problem. And despite its scale and illegality, only six men had ever been sentenced - due to children's silence and lack of evidence as data transmission via camera is live so rarely recorded.

Woerde approached Terre des Hommes - an international human rights charity focused on the rights of children - to collaborate on an initiative that would help tackle the problem by mobilising politicians and police world-wide.

The Creative Idea:

Sweetie is a creative idea that developed out of months of research and the realisation that the crime comprises a basic economic system with supply and demand.

To stop the problem, Lemz and Terre des Hommes realised they needed to tackle demand as rapid growth in third world internet connections makes supply harder to control. "We came up with different ideas - such as shutting down predators' internet connections," Woerde explains. "But these would only be temporary and effect a small number of predators."

A turning point came with the realisation that once contact is made online, predators often share information that makes them relatively easy to identify.

"We realised we would have to go further than simply chat online with a false name, however," he adds. "To achieve what we wanted, we needed to create a kid that was realistic enough to get predators to actually commit the crime of soliciting her for a sexual performance."

The campaign would be - in effect - an online sting.

How do you challenge issues people don't want to think or hear about? Watch the Sweetie film here.

The Preparation:

Working with Terres des Hommes - which covered one third of the campaign's cost, with the balance met by the numerous creatives involved donating their time and services - Lemz undertook extensive research to better understand the problem and its scale.

Having identified potential for the 'sting', it was then important to establish whether using a 3D animated character to provoke a crime online is legal - in most countries it is. The next step was to produce a 3D child so realistic adults would not question her authenticity.

Creative development of the ten year-old character, a girl from the Philippines called Sweetie, took close to a year.

Developed with master artists and animators at Motek Entertainment and Brekel 3D, she was brought to life using motion capture to create numerous clips, building a library of movements and expressions. An important consideration was allowing her to move fluently on webcam - something achieved through detailed research of how people interact when using this technology.

Despite drawing on the specialist input and resources of more than a dozen production and design companies, the number of those who knew how Sweetie would be used was kept to a minimum. "There was a lot to lose if anything leaked," Woerde explains.

Furthermore, care was needed secure all computers used to interact with predators with encryption. Although based in Amsterdam, each was re-routed to have a Filipino IP address. All data gathered against predators, meanwhile, was stored on another computer that was not and never had been connected to the web.

The Execution:

Sweetie was placed on international chat sites for ten weeks. During this time, four of the team spent eight to ten hours a day, five days a week using her as a disguise to interact with more than 20,000 online predators.

Piece by piece - often through several different conversations with a perpetrator over a week - names, locations and webcam footage of abusers was gathered and cross-referenced with Google and other public sources until 1,000 abusers caught in the act were identified - 999 men and one woman - from 71 countries.

A global PR campaign was launched to announce the findings and hand over the results to Interpol, positioning the initiative as one of the largest sex abuse cases in recent history. Journalists, editors and bloggers in each of the 71 countries where the 1,000 abusers were based were invited to attend or view a live stream of a Terre des Hommes press conference in The Hague.

Lemz approached documentary-maker Peter Tetteroo to make a short documentary about the project which Terre des Hommes then released online. The aim was to ensure everyone got a sense of the problem's scale to strengthen efforts to end the abuse.

The Results:

Within hours of the press conference, Sweetie was a global phenomenon. Over one billion people worldwide saw her on the news. As important as exposure, however, was action.

In the Philippines, the country's congress ordered an official investigation into the online sexual exploitation of children. Hundreds of child victims were released and the police there now consider web cam sex tourism the country's number one crime.

In the US, UK and Australia joint action broke up a ring of 700+ paedophiles leading to several convictions. Elsewhere, legislative changes were implemented in a number of countries making it easier to protect victims and prosecute the perpetrators.

Today, webcam sex tourism is a globally recognised problem and millions of online predators are now aware they can no longer abuse children online with impunity. Furthermore, law enforcement agencies have a mandate and solution for tackling it which they did not have before.

Sweetie shows how creatives can have significant impact on global problems that may not seem relevant to their industry or daily lives, Woerde believes.

"Our strategy was shaped by a firm belief that simply showing a problem does not lead to effective campaigns," he explains.

"As we get overthrown by pictures of famine, war and human trafficking on a daily basis, our minds shut down because we can't cope with so much horror. But create a solution and give people a clear call to action and the focus shifts - onto the possibility of change."

D&AD Impact seeks to identify and celebrate great, transformative ideas that contribute towards a better, fairer and more sustainable future for all. If you think you have a campaign that makes a real and positive difference to the world then why not enter it into D&AD Impact.



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