UN Refugee Agency asks Canadians to ditch the chocolates and flowers for ‘UNMother’s Day’

Who: The UN Refugee Agency, with Agency59, Nimble Content and Recess Post.

What: “UNMother’s Day,” the agency’s first work for the relief organization, offering a charitable alternative to traditional Mother’s Day gifts like chocolate, flowers and balloons.

When & Where: The campaign broke on April 29 and includes e-mail, paid social and organic posts on the UN Refugee Agency’s new Instagram channel. All of the videos drive to a dedicated online shop, where people can purchase items for refugees—from a $2,500 midwife kit to a $100 women’s fresh start kit—in their mother’s name.

Why: It’s not getting much attention during the worldwide coronavirus pandemic, but the refugee crisis is still as bad as ever, with 70.8 million people around the world forced from their home by conflict and persecution according to UN data. Nearly 30 million of them are refugees, more than half under the age of 18.

This campaign is a strategic attempt to break from the UN’s standard approach to its fundraising efforts, says Lauren La Rose, senior fundraising communications associate at the UN Refugee Agency in Toronto.

“Our organization’s been around for 70 years, and this is not a conventional campaign you would see on a UN channel,” says La Rose. “It’s a little bit outside-of-the-box, but still in line with our brand ethos of using an opportunity to help another individual in need.”

How: The original creative concept called for a live-action spot in a sketch comedy vein, featuring two moms discussing traditional Mother’s Day gifts. Those plans were thrown out when Toronto’s production industry was shut down because of COVID. “We’d got the budget, we’d got the director and we were about to cast and that’s when everything changed,” says Agency59 chief creative officer Brian Howlett.

That required a quick change, with director Jesse Senko enlisting animators from Recess Post to create a series of slow-motion videos that show traditional Mother’s Day gifts being pitched in the trash. “It was a real pivot for sure,” says Howlett. “But for me, it’s not about the creative punch of these videos, it’s more about the idea.”

So this is a continuing initiative?: Howlett hopes it will be turned into an ongoing property such as “Movember” or “Bell Let’s Talk.” “The core insight is really powerful: instead of giving mom flowers she doesn’t need, why don’t you donate to a refugee mom in her name? That’s what I’m most excited about as an ad person,” he says.

And we quote: “We had to pivot in terms of the approach, but this is very much in line with the core idea. It’s a way you can show your appreciation to a loved one by paying it forward to someone who may be less fortunate. It’s a message that resonates even more so with the current circumstances, when you may not only be unable to give that tangible gift to a love one, you may not even be able to see them.” —Lauren La Rose, senior fundraising communications associate, UN Refugee Agency.



Chris Powell