The government of Colombia has turned to an international ad agency to help persuade the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, better known as FARC, to put down their weapons and return to society.
Leaders believe FARC rebel soldiers, isolated in the jungle, are lonely and homesick during the Christmas season. So the message of the ad campaign is simple:
"Guerrillas. In this Christmas, follow the light that will guide you to your family and freedom. Demobilize! Everything is possible during Christmastime."
For the past several years, the international ad agency Lowe and Partners has worked with the Colombian Ministry of Defense on ad campaigns with names like "Operation Christmas," "Rivers of Light" and "Operation Bethlehem" — with the aim of encouraging FARC guerrillas to demobilize.
In "Operation Christmas," teams installed nine Christmas trees near where guerrillas moved soldiers and supplies. At night, the trees displayed a message in lights: "If Christmas can come to the jungle, you can come home. Demobilize." Another time, the agency designed floating Christmas balls with blue LED lights that contained personal messages from the guerrillas' family and friends, inviting them to come home. The balls were floated down rivers toward the rebels.
The latest outreach effort features the real life story of mothers whose sons have been recruited by FARC against their will. The mothers shared snapshots of their children and recorded personal messages to them, asking them to consider coming home.
The campaign's creative director, Jose Miguel Sokolof, says "Mother’s Voice" features TV and radio ads and posters that say "Antes de ser guerrillero, eres mi hijo" which translates as "Before you were a guerrilla, you were my son.” Sokolof says he hopes the campaign delivers the message to FARC rebels that "demobilization is a real and safe option."
“Working with these mothers across Colombia was both humbling and heart-breaking," Sokoloff says. "They hold these photographs so dear because in many cases it is all they have left. We wanted to tell their stories and have them represent the families across Colombia who have lost relatives to this conflict over too many decades — while also letting the FARC Guerrillas know that they can safely demobilize and take back their lives.”
The multi-year Christmas ad campaign may be paying off. This week, FARC declared a one-month unilateral ceasefire in the conflict that's already killed an estimated 250,000 people. For its part, the Colombian Defense Ministry says it will host a holiday festival in the former FARC stronghold of San Vicente del Caguán.
Sokoloff, a Colombian, says the Christmas ad campaign is a deeply personal matter for him.
"I haven't seen a single day of peace in my life, but I hope my children will. I hope we can end this war," he says.