Money Talks: The Zimbabwean Dollar Speaks For Its People

The Zimbabwean.co.uk Ad Campaign
An innovative and provocative ad campaign just won the Grand Prix at Cannes last week.

The Zimbabwean newspaper, TheZimbabwean.co.uk, won the top award for Outdoor advertising; but this was not your standard billboard campaign.  What made this winner so unique was the purpose of its message and the execution.

The Zimbabwean was created and is edited by Wilf Mbanga, forced into exile in the UK after having been declared an enemy of the Zimbabwean state by Robert Mugabe.  Its goal is to provide fair and balanced news to Zimbabweans about their country, including its political struggles. The paper is read by expatriates in the UK and also in South Africa, but the people of Zimbabwe, for whom it is created, cannot buy the paper due to heavy – almost 70% – ‘luxury’ import taxes put in place by Mugabe’s regime, making it practically impossible for the average citizen to afford.   Mugabe’s aim however, is not just to make the paper unaffordable, but to abolish freedoms of speech and the press in Zimbabwe altogether.

Western news rarely focuses on African dictatorships, however, with recent developments in Zimbabwean politics beginning with the disputed 2008 elections, the atrocities of Mugabe’s 20 plus year reign were brought to light around the world.  The state of Zimbabwe’s economy also became a key topic of interest.  The condition of its currency is reminiscent of Germany in 1923, when people would take wheelbarrows of money to buy simple goods and even burn it to keep warm, as it was cheaper than firewood.  Zimbabwe now has a One Hundred Trillion Dollar note, rendering the currency virtually worthless. The hyper-inflation of the local currency and its value, or lack thereof, has even become a running joke.  In South Africa you may hear someone say they are “feeling as weak as the Zim dollar”, having a rough day or exhausted. But the situation is not a joke; Zimbabweans cannot even afford to buy bread with their trillion dollar bill.  The Zimbabwean decided to use this new symbol to raise awareness of the plight of the people.

The paper, along with TBWA/Hunt/Lascaris/Johannesburg launched a campaign focusing on the currency itself.  The Trillion Dollar Campaign actually used the bills as the medium.  Billboards and flyers were created made out of real money, printed with lines such as “It’s cheaper to print this on money than paper” and “Fight the regime that crippled a country” along with a link to thezimbabwean.co.uk.   Printed bank notes were handed out in intersections, billboards dotted highways, all to inform the people and attack the regime.  During the course of the campaign, the website experienced an astounding increase of two million visits.  But digital media spread the message even further; to sites for the New York Times, Huffington Post, Yahoo News, and hundreds of blogs.  Google saw thousands of hits for billboards and hundreds of thousands of visitors flocked to Flickr, all continuing to drive sales of the paper.

This year not only did the Cannes International Advertising Festival judge entries on creativity, but on the campaigns’ business results as well.   It is not surprising that The Zimbabwean won the Grand Prix. The newspaper’s mission and its implementation made it particularly effective.  Now that The Zimbabwean has people reading, it will be interesting to see if it can empower those readers to become voices.  Perhaps it will help to alter the situation in Zimbabwe – we’ve seen of late how digital media can truly amplify a campaign and form an impetus for change.