Ad of the Day: Water Is Life Steals Art From Kenya, So It Can Give Back Something More

Deutsch pulls off the 'Art Heist for Good'

Water Is Life "steals" from poor people in the destitute Kibera district of Nairobi, Kenya, in an effort to give them back a whole lot more in the humanitarian organization's latest innovative campaign, "Art Heist for Good."

A few years back, when the nonprofit was shooting its "Kenya Bucket List" video, the team toured Kibera, where banners by French artist JR had been installed on local rooftops. The artwork was part of JR's "Women Are Heroes" outdoor exhibition from 2009. Once the exhibition was over, the banners remained on the roofs, providing protection from the sun and rain.

"Those with the banners did not know the value," Kristine Bender, Water Is Life president, tells Adweek. "Many had been ripped up, and even stolen to put on the floor of someone else's home."

Some of the art, however, was in good enough condition to sell. The locals had no way of doing so—thus, Water Is Life and ad agency Deutsch hatched a plan to remove the banners and auction them off, with funds supporting improvements in the region's sanitation and hydration systems.

"We wanted to do something bold and brave, generating direct impact for the community," says Menno Kluin, Deutsch executive creative director.

The "heist" was meticulously planned, to avoid putting its perpetrators in harm's way. "We had a security team and local partners who helped us coordinate," Bender says. "We were very careful, as this area can be highly volatile and dangerous—and anger and violence can erupt at any given moment. Those who lived in the homes where we took the banners were elated to be getting a new iron sheet roof for protection."

So far, one banner has been sold, and four more are being prepped for auction, while others will be harvested from rooftops in the months to come. The goal is to raise $400,000, with the funds supporting:

• A 5,000-gallon-per-day water filter

• A permanent community hand-washing station

• 40 hand-washing outlets for 4,000 school children

• Overhauling the water distribution apparatus

• A training program and school curriculum about hygiene

Deutsch created the short film above to generate awareness about the project and, hopefully, get the word out to potential buyers of the art.

"Most charity advertisements have to ask people for donations," says Kluin. "We didn't. We simply saw something of value that would have otherwise gone to waste and used it to make a direct impact for the people."

It's an unusual approach. The legalities are intentionally portrayed as murky, whether or not they actually were—something the campaign emphasizes rather than downplays, as a way of generating drama. But Water Is Life, lauded for inventive campaigns of all sorts, has achieved impressive results by writing its own playbook.


Client: Water Is Life

Kristine Bender, President


Project: "The Art Heist for Good"

Agency: Deutsch, New York

Chief Creative Officer: Kerry Keenan

Executive Creative Director: Menno Kluin

Creative Directors: Sam Shepherd, Frank Cartagena, Julia Neumann

Art Directors: Brittany Rivera, Katrina Mustakas

Copywriter: Kevin Meagher

Director of Photography: Neil DaCosta

Design Director: Juan Carlos Pagan

Designer: Brian Gartside

Director of Integrated Production: Joe Calabrese

Producer: Joe Pernice

Post Producer: Francess Tom-Sahr

Editor: Pete Slife

Directors: Sam Shepherd, Frank Cartagena, Menno Kluin

Music: Found Objects

Record/Mix: Duotone

@DaveGian 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.