Colombia Uses Television Ads to Convince Guerrilla Fighters to Surrender

An ad agency in Colombia has created pro bono TV commercials in an effort to convince guerrilla rebels to disband—and it seems to be working.

The advertising industry isn’t worth billions for nothing: companies spend money on ads because, more often than not, they convince people to do what they want—like buy your daughter a Fashionista Barbie for Christmas, plan a Caribbean cruise, or defect from a guerrilla army in the Colombian jungle.

Wait a minute—what’s that last one again?

Strange but true: the Colombian government has signed with a Bogota-based ad agency, SSP3, which has created pro bono television commercials aimed at armed insurgents, with appeals to encourage them to defect from their tribes and return to civilization. Many of the commercials feature reenactments of the terrible acts that warriors are forced to commit, with heartfelt testimonials from guerrillas who have defected. The ads use the tagline: “Think about it. There’s another life. Demobilization is the way out.”

TV commercials may seem like a bizarre way to reach the Colombian rebels, but, when the insurgents aren’t engaged in warfare, they’re usually watching soccer games on TV, which are brought to their jungle hideouts via satellite dish.

So, the government has bought ad space during soccer games on both television and the radio, in an effort to reach the rebels.

The campaign also distributes flyers around known guerrilla hot spots in Colombia, featuring a 24-hour hotline phone number that guerrillas can call if they’d like to defect.

So how effective is the ad campaign when it comes to disarming Colombian fighters? The impact is noticeable: since the campaign launched, defections have increased by about 8% over the previous year, to nearly 3,500. And, unlike in the past, many of the defectors are high-ranking officials.

Ten years ago, Colombia was home to an estimated 30,000 guerrilla fighters; today, the number may be as low as 3,000. “With the number of defections, they are very weakened, and their lack of military power is very real,” Jose Miguel Sokoloff, SSP3’s chief creative officer, told AdAge.

And even if the ads don’t always reach their intended target, they also serve another important function: they “let the rest of the country understand we’re winning this war,” said Sokoloff.

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