The refugee crisis facing Europe has raised tough ethical questions for governments and the public alike. Where should they live? Who is responsible for their welfare? Should governments which fail to live up to their legal or moral obligations to refugees be punished? As has been well documented, fear and concern about an ‘influx’ of refugees and other migrants was a key factor in the UK vote to leave the European Union.
It was in this sensitive and divisive context that the European Commission (EC) challenged us to develop a campaign to raise awareness of the more than 1 billion euros that the EU provides every year in vital humanitarian aid, and to foster empathy with the more than 60 million men, women and children who are forced to flee from war, persecution and natural disasters. Messages were meant to highlight the ethical issues at the heart of the refugee tragedy and to appeal to the public’s sense of humanity, showing that refugees react as any of us would in a desperate situation. The campaign was designed to peak around the time of the United Nations’ World Refugee Day on 20 June. Messages needed to be factual but emotional, chiming with - but standing out from - the UN's own campaign.
Since World Refugee Day fell during the EURO 2016 tournament and football is almost universally loved in Europe, we anchored our #SupportRefugees campaign to the sport. Our strategy was to highlight the ethical dimension and to challenge the negative narrative seen in large parts of the media and espoused by some political parties. To ensure cut through in a crowded marketplace, we favoured media-buying over outreach.
We engaged two celebrity footballers to represent the campaign: Belgium and Manchester United midfielder Marouane Fellaini, and female footballer Anja Mittag, of Germany and Paris Saint-Germain. Neither was paid for their endorsement. Their message: “For millions of fans, football is their life. For millions of refugees, life is about survival.”
The main campaign outreach tools were a print advertisement and a short video featuring the footballers and two refugee children who delivered the campaign messages. The print advertisement appeared in high-profile publications across Europe and the short video was circulated widely online using social media. The Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) and the footballers’ union, FIFPro were important multipliers, as were the European Journalism Centre and other relevant stakeholder organisations.