Who is Really Primitive and Who can Claim to be Civilized

For many reasons, including issues related to politics and war, more than a million migrants and refugees primarily from Middle Eastern countries crossed into Europe in 2015.  This sparked a crisis as countries, mainly Italy and Greece, struggled to cope with this important influx, creating division in the EU over how best to deal with resettling people. 

Of the ones who, after many vicissitudes (crossing the desert, finding the money for the “ticket” that will allow them to cross the Mediterranean in small and overloaded boats), make it through the journey alive, many encounter further obstacles along the way. As the migrant influx has eased over the past year, the discrimination among Europeans increased.  Countries shut their borders (Switzerland) and produced propaganda stating that they did not accept refugees (Denmark).  Thankfully, many countries and associations stood against them and sought to create awareness over the ignorance due to disinformation.  Organizations such as Amnesty International, UNHCR, ASRC for example. How did they do that? In many ways, but primarily and most effectively through the use of ads.

The refugees struggled to arrive here risking everything they had, including their lives, leaving all they had behind.  When they finally hit the shore they had to live in refugee camps and wait for many months seeking asylum, only to be discriminated against and left at the margins of society.  Thankfully, some countries are more organized and receptive than others.   In the Netherlands they are trying their best to ease the journey of these migrants, and to integrate them into society.  They create camps within the city using un-utilized jails or buildings, transforming them into shelters in order for the refugees to use their waiting time in a profitable way (e.g. learning a new language or occupation) and including them in society.  An organization that is doing a tremendous job with this is COA, the ‘Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers’.  It is responsible for the reception, supervision and departure (from the reception location) of asylum seekers arriving in the Netherlands.  It ensures, in a professional way, that people in a vulnerable position are accommodated and supported in a safe and livable environment in a manner that ensures that the reception of aliens remains controllable for politicians and society and enables them to give account of their acts.  They do not have any advertisements and consequentially I thought they would be a great client for my advertisements.

While looking at this genre of ads for inspiration, a noticeable common denominator is that the best and most effective advertisements draw awareness through satire or strikingly inappropriate phrases (as you can see in the featured image for this post).  Their intent is to make you conscious of what is really happening in the world, outside of your daily bubble, estrange us from what we would consider a normal image and make us reflect.  Through this technique, organizations hope to spark attention from the public over very sensible topics that are not taken into as much consideration as they should be, eliminate discrimination and hope for help and donations.

f7f963b84aa3487a36a5768cc6fa99faLet’s see how some of these ads work:

In this first ad it’s clearly noticeable that the intent of the UN refugee agency is to run a provocative international advertising campaign that employs shock tactics to raise awareness about its work and drum up public support for refugees.  How?  By showing us a scene we could normally experience in an unfamiliar context.  A mother walks in on her child that is trying to smoke a cigarette in the bathroom of a destroyed home.  The use of white space, in this ad on the upper part, is fundamental for this ad because it draws the attention to the slogan “refugees would like to have the same problems you have” and to the association’s logo.


Another complaint that came along with the crisis is that these poor refugees who came seeking a better life in our countries are horrible people.  People fear that they are going to steal from them and make their lives miserable.  Amnesty international attempted to give context to this belief pointing out that no one would willingly choose the path the refugees have chosen.  This powerful ad, states what should be obvious: these people are leaving their countries because they have no other options.  The focal point is purposely off centered in order to give emphasis to both the slogan and the image.  The logo is very evident due to the color contrast.  White space is present in the center of the image in order to create and optical illusion of distance and three-dimensionality.


Although this 3rd ad presented clearly states all the main concepts that the organization wants to deliver, overall the results are less effective.  The absence of white space, the colors alternating too much, the writing style changing dimensions, and the continuous use of exclamation points instead of letters creates a “gallery of bad type” we could say (c.f. page 40 White Space Is Not Your Enemy).  Additionally, by using only black and white, you would think it would create a minimalist effect, but this isn’t the case.

These ads, overall, aim to encourage individuals to take responsibility for their actions by subtly connecting with our subconscious through powerful images.  Apart from the last one, the effective ones tend to be very minimalist and try to shock us with images rather than words.  In all of the ads, there is an emphasis on enlightening a view that for the most part seems to be guided by disinformation and indifference.

Hopefully these ads will have done a good job and will work as ‘caffeine,’ awakening the viewers and making them question themselves and their previous points. From a totally different perspective they can ask themselves “who is really primitive and who can claim to be civilized”(Joseph Conrad).  I do not believe that everyone knew the right answer before viewing these advertisements. Hopefully now they do.


This entry was posted in Blog #2. Researching Print Advertisements and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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