‘We Won’t Stand By While the World Lets Us Die.’ Kids Demand an End to Oppression in Striking Campaign

Advocacy group Right to Play marks International Children's Day

'We’re not your cheap labor. We’re not your child brides,' proclaims the narration in BBDO Toronto's anthem spot. - Credit by Right to Play

Improving the lives of oppressed children around the world is no game.

Nonprofit group Right to Play—which provides educational programs in 15 countries to foster the protection, education and empowerment of young people—makes that point in this visually stunning campaign from BBDO Toronto. The launch coincides with Canada’s celebration of International Children’s Day on Nov. 20.

A 90-second anthem spot shows kids forced into harsh, often heartbreaking situations. Despite their circumstances, they never lose hope or stop striving to build a better tomorrow.

“They think they can traffic us, abuse us, marry us and use us,” a narrator begins. “They think that our futures are their own to shape … but we’ll rise above the fear and the hurt and pain.”

“We’re not your cheap labor. We’re not your child brides,” the voiceover concludes. “We’re not just poor kids with some flies in our eyes. And we won’t just stand by while the world lets us die. No, we rise.”

Such lines channel Maya Angelou’s famous poem “Still I Rise,” and share its spirit and intensity in calling out for social justice. Ads drive viewers to the group’s website, where they can learn about Right to Play’s efforts to help kids in Mali, South Sudan, Tanzania, Afghanistan and other struggling nations. The organization works with national and local authorities, parents, community groups and schools to combat scourges ranging from child labor and female genital mutilation to disease, malnourishment and the practice of recruiting children as soldiers.

Working with the kids themselves, Right to Play organizes games and activities to teach youngsters about hygiene, health and how to stay safe. For example, in regions rife with malaria, kids play “Mosquito Tag,” which explains aspects of treatment and prevention. Children playing mosquitoes can’t tag their friends, who pretend to hoist protective netting above their heads. This game teaches them that nets provide protection, and reminds them to ask their parents to secure such materials for their families.

Right to Play also organizes sports competitions to bolster teamwork, cooperation and self-esteem—and backs free expression in the arts.

“We do a lot work on psycho-social support in refugee camps using play-based techniques to help children deal with the trauma of war that they have experienced,” Right to Play CEO Kevin Frey tells Adweek.

This next spot deals in explosive fashion with kids pressured to join local militias. The cinematic scenes of a boy dribbling a soccer ball through an active battlefield, doggedly clinging to his right to grow up safely—or, perhaps, even grow up at all—are positively striking:

“This was a very emotional production, which had the crew in tears between takes,” says BBDO creative chief Todd Mackie of filming the spots on location in desolate South African terrain. Local folks, including some Right to Play kids, star in the ads (no professional actors appear), and the voiceovers were performed by amateur talent.

“The child soldier shoot particularly was very difficult, as it all felt incredibly real with the burning cars and explosions,” Mackie recalls. “One thing that stood out was even after we cut, the kids just kept on playing soccer. To see the joy of those kids in such a bleak setting was very powerful.”

Finally, we have a slow-burn narrative about a girl who works in a garment sweatshop, slowly approaching her boss’ office to deliver a message she’s diligently composed at school:

In all three spots, director Mark Zibert’s cinematic eye really carries the day. He focuses on the kids’ expressive faces and makes them the center of attention amid copious sound and fury. His award-winning work for SickKids Foundation takes a somewhat similar approach.

“He directed Right to Play’s first commercial in 2010, and spent time learning about their programs in Africa while photographing the children,” says Mackie. “Mark has immense respect for children, which really shines through in the films.”

“As we began to share the films, it was amazing how many parents wanted to shield their kids from simply watching what millions of children have to live through every day,” he says. “So, our target is primarily parents.”

If they could take away just one message from the campaign, “it would be, even in the darkest corners of the Earth, Right to Play is helping children create their own personal uprising. Help them rise.”


Client: Right to Play
Agency: BBDO Toronto
Chief Creative Officers: Denise Rossetto, Todd Mackie
VP, Group Account Director: Rebecca Flaman
VP, Brand Planner: Tom Kenny
Copywriter: Domenique Raso
Art Director: Anand Iyer
Account Director: Jaya Rizzi
Account Supervisor: Sagi Mamalider
Design: Mike Nugent
Broadcast Producer: Dena Thompson
Production Company: Skin & Bones
Director: Mark Zibert
Editorial: The Assembly
Editors: David James Findlay, Marka Rankovic
Music, Voice Direction & Sound Design: Pirate Toronto
Color & VFX: Alter Ego

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@DaveGian davegia@hotmail.com David Gianatasio is a longtime contributor to Adweek, where he has been a writer and editor for two decades. Previously serving as Adweek's New England bureau chief and web editor, he remains based in Boston.