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How Amnesty International Got Massive Engagement -- With YouTube Banner Ads

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The banner ad may be a crime against advertising, but creative agency Air Brussels appears to have found an extremely effective way of using the internet's oldest ad format.

Amnesty International tasked the agency with getting people to sign petitions against humanitarian crimes committed across the globe. A difficult task in any medium, they said, but they found tremendous success by putting a creative spin on YouTube banners.

The banner ads were shown at the bottom of a video and looked like subtitles -- not ads. Each banner then had a call to action to visit the Amnesty's page concerning the specific issue.

In one example, President of the People's Republic of China Xi Jinping is giving a speech when Amnesty's ad appears: "I've put Su Changlan in prison for publishing pro-democracy comments."

Changlan is a Chinese activist facing lengthy jail time for supporting women's rights.

More than 370,000 people saw the ads and one out of every nine signed Amnesty's petition. The campaign's initial cost was about $900. Creatives Toon Vapouchke and Morgane Choppinet told Ad Age that the execution was easy, as you can have banner ads run on specific videos and a specific time.

"We were able to target a specific video and say, 'Here, I want to put my advertising here,'" Vapouchke said, speaking from Brussels. "It worked very well and Amnesty was very happy."

"It is difficult to activate people to sign Amnesty's petition," he added. "Banner ads always show stupid things like a car, but we thought maybe we can do something different that was relevant. And then the idea came like that."