Covenant House tackles sex trafficking with ‘Shoppable Girls’ campaign

Who: Covenant House and Taxi, with Media Experts and Weber Shandwick for PR.

What: “Shoppable Girls,” a new sex trafficking awareness campaign. Taxi has a longstanding relationship with Covenant House, which provides support services to vulnerable youth, but this is the first campaign addressing sex trafficking.

When & Where: The campaign broke on Tuesday, timed to coincide with Human Trafficking Awareness Day on Feb. 22. It’s mostly built around shoppable ad units on Instagram and Snapchat (social platforms frequented by the young girls who are the target audience), supported by some out-of-home. It’s being geo-targeted to locations known to be frequented by traffickers, such as malls, schools and community centres.


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Why: Sex trafficking is a $1 billion a year industry in Canada. The awareness campaign is aimed at educating people about the problem and equipping them with information that can be used to prevent it. Among the key facts:

  • 93% of trafficking victims in Canada are citizens, and victims are recruited as young as 13.
  • 90% of victims are female, however, young men are also targeted too.
  • Victims are often recruited by someone they know: males they consider to be boyfriends or through friends, who are often victims themselves.
  • Sex trafficking is a multi-billion dollar industry globally—more lucrative than illegal guns or drugs smuggling, with traffickers making over $280,000 per year by controlling one victim.

How: The campaign is built around social ads promoting a group of “Shoppable Girls” between 15 and 18, all driving to a robust informational website,

The campaign was deliberately created to catch the eye of young people and encourage them to dig deeper, using a series of brightly coloured social ads that mimic those for fashion brands. Many young girls who are recruited into the sex trade are first approached via social media platforms.

“Sex traffickers look at these young girls as products to be sold,” said Taxi’s co-executive creative director, Alexis Bronstorph. “[The idea] that these girls are not for sale was right in the brief, and that was the jumping off point for us.”

The background: In 2018, Covenant House conducted a national study with Ipsos Public Affairs that informed the campaign and provided a better understanding of the attitudes and behaviours that put teen girls at  risk for sex trafficking.

Among the findings:

  • Only 38% of teenage girls indicated that their parents are “very aware” of their social media activity. And as girls age and their social media usage increases, they become even less likely to talk to their parents about challenges they are experiencing, both on and offline, thereby increasing their risk factors.
  • While girls indicate some familiarity with the term “sex trafficking,” few are very familiar with it and there is a significant gap between 12 and 16 year olds.
  • Many sex trafficking survivors lacked a big picture understanding of what was happening to them and the right vocabulary to describe it to others. These factors, combined with not knowing where to turn to for help, were key barriers to leaving their situations.

And we quote: “No one chooses to be trafficked. And the truth is that it’s happening in our communities, to our children and often right in front of us. Yet many times the signs go unnoticed by those in the best position to help.” —Julie Neubauer, program manager of anti-tracking services, Covenant House.




Chris Powell