Young Glory seeks creative solutions to war in Ukraine

Can an advertising competition bring an end to war? Well, no, of course not. But a global competition with Canadian origins is asking young industry practitioners to come up with ideas for persuading Russians to oppose the invasion of Ukraine.

The brief was issued by the Young Glory competition, which was co-created by Rafik Belmesk, vice-president, head of strategy for Taxi in Toronto and Montreal. It has drawn competitors from all around the world since its inception, with teams from Ukraine winning the past two competitions.

Belmesk said that Young Glory was preparing to unveil its March brief when its Facebook page started receiving notifications from Ukrainian creatives in the wake of the Russian invasion. They asked for the competition to be paused, and that organizers instead issue a brief about stopping the war.

Young Glory granted their wish and issued a brief called “Save Ukraine,” inviting young creatives to submit ideas that might help end the violence in Ukraine. The task for the brief: “Find any communication solution to stop Russian aggression in Ukraine; to bring the truth to Russian citizens and convince them, their army, and the leadership to stop the war and killing people.”

Belmesk admitted that he grappled with whether the competition should do or say anything related to what was happening in Ukraine. But then he received an email from a participant based in Kyiv that signed off with the message: “Tell me if I can help you more. I need to hide in a bomb shelter. The air raid siren is [sounding].”

“When somebody ends an email with that, you’ve got to listen and do what you can to help,” said Belmesk. “That’s why we decided to ask people in our community to help their fellow community members. I’ve got to know quite a few people in Russia and Ukraine, and these are people like us.”

Young Glory has set a March 10 deadline for submissions, and Belmesk said there has been a lot of early interest since the competition was announced. Russia has accounted for just more than 26% of the traffic to the website in the past 24 hours, while Ukraine—despite its citizens facing death and the destruction of their country—ranked sixth overall in traffic to the site.

It’s not the first time that Young Glory has waded into the world of geo-politics, although the consequences are markedly more significant this time around. One of its 2020 briefs was entitled “Interfere with the 2020 U.S. Election,” and it invited creatives to come up with ways of using Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, to get more people to vote in that year’s presidential election.

Advertising can change attitudes and behaviours, and there’s always been a fine line between advertising and propaganda. Belmesk knows Young Glory will not have any impact on the war, but felt a sense of obligation to help in any way he can—and pivoting the competition this way lets people channel their creativity in a positive direction.

He’s even been exchanging messages with Arina Avdeeva, co-founder of the agency Friends Moscow, who told him it was a good idea. 

“Advertising has the power to change behaviour and stop people in their tracks,” said Belmesk. “Some problems are too big to solve, but you can make a little part of the problem better… Of course advertising’s not going to solve the war, but if I can make the day a little bit better for the people who personally reached out to me as they’re [experiencing] difficulty through war, it would feel better than any award I’ve ever won.”

The team with the winning submission will also be rewarded with a trip to Cannes for this year’s Cannes Lions ad competition, a deal brokered by a senior leader at Taxi parent WPP.

Chris Powell