A Canadian campaign that devised and promoted a coded hand gesture that victims of domestic violence could use to bypass their abusers' control and ask outsiders for help has triumphed at this year's Care Awards, taking home the Grand Prix.
The Care Awards, hosted by the non-profit organisation ACT Responsible, honour the most creative advertising campaigns in the fields of social care, public health, human rights and the environment.
The award ceremony took place in Brussels on Tuesday evening, where the seven winners and the Grand Prix were revealed. Transgender rights, child abuse, domestic violence and overfishing were among the other subjects present in the final selection.
"Each winner is from a different country, and each winning campaign is addressing a different issue – ranging from climate change to the negative effects of social media on youth," European Parliament Vice-President Dita Charanzová, who served as jury president, told Euronews.
Charanzová said the Care Awards demonstrate how effective advertising can be more than a simple "business tool" aimed at maximising corporate profits and help deliver a message for the greater good.
"In these campaign videos, this very same business tool is used instead to raise awareness, to change people's behaviour for the benefit of society as a whole. The result is a strong one," the MEP said.
"The shocking, emotional portrayals are exactly what is needed to wake people up to everyday problems that are too often ignored."
This year's Grand Prix went to "Signal for Help," a campaign jointly produced by the Canadian Women's Foundation and the Women's Funding Network to address the dramatic rise in domestic violence during the COVID-19 lockdowns.
As abusers exploited online tools to track and control their victims, the campaign designed a discrete, single-handed gesture that victims could use to communicate with outsiders in video calls.
It consists of three steps: 1) bring a palm to the camera, 2) tuck the thumb and 3) trap the thumb in your fist.
The signal is supposed to mean "I need help" and urges friends and relatives to check up with the victims as soon as possible.
The campaign made headlines in over 45 countries and went viral on TikTok, helping the secret gesture consolidate its meaning across borders. Abusers in Spain and the US were identified and detained after their victims used the signal.
Charanzová admitted picking the Grand Prix is "always a difficult decision" and praised the "Signal for Help" campaign for meeting all the necessary criteria.
"What we look for are the originality of the idea and quality of the execution, the impact on society and the reliability of the message and the advertiser," the MEP told Euronews.
"I believe the campaign will continue to have a lasting impact."
Who are the other winners?
Together with the Grand Prix, the jury recognised six campaigns for their outstanding creativity.
"Don't Choose Extinction," a campaign produced by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), offered an unexpected take on multilateralism.
The video takes viewers to an ordinary UN plenary session. Then, all of a sudden, a CGI dinosaur storms in, shocking the audience. The prehistorical creature, named Frankie, heads to the podium and, much to everyone's surprise, begins to give a speech.
"Going extinct is a bad thing," he says. "At least we had an asteroid. What's your excuse?"
The dinosaur then blasts governments for spending billions in fossil fuels subsidies, which do nothing but increase greenhouse gas emissions and exacerbate the climate crisis.
"Let me be real for a second: you have a huge opportunity right now as you rebuild your economies," the dinosaur says. "Here's my wild idea: don't choose extinction. Save your species before it's too late."
In "Unbox Me," by UNAids, transgender adults in India sit in front of the camera and open up the treasure boxes that they used to keep as children. The boxes contain jewellery, make-up, toys and other objects that helped them embrace their true gender identity.
"I identified myself with was in that box. It had lipstick that I stole from my mother," says a trans woman.
On the occasion of International Transgender Day, which falls on 31 March, Indian influencers filmed themselves opening these treasure boxes, bringing the conversation on trans rights to a wider audience.
Another winning spot features Leonardo Sigali, a footballer who plays for Racing Club, one of Argentina's biggest clubs, replying "I'm sorry, I don't remember" to each and every question he gets from a sports journalist at the end of a football match.
Sigali's bizarre behaviour baffled commentators and attracted media attention. In reality, the player had partnered with an Argentinian association named A.L.M.A. to raise awareness about Alzheimer's disease.
"Short-term memory failure is one of the first and most usual symptoms of Alzheimer's disease," Sigali says.
The shortest and perhaps most suggestive winner was submitted by Save The Children Norway.
The 45-second video shows ordinary, dimly lit rooms with children playing the classic game of hide and seek. The kids are never fully shown: their presence is evoked through movements and sounds, such as heavy breathing coming from under a bed.
"For every fifth child, hide-and-seek is not a game," the spots says at the very end, a veiled reference to the widespread but often unreported problem of child abuse.
The other winning spots included "Reverse Selfie," which tackles the decline of self-esteem among teenage girls due to social media pressure, and "Catch of the Day 2050," where a traditional Dutch fish stall in Amsterdam sold fake fish made of discarded fishing nets to denounce overfishing.
A special youth award went to "ReStory," by Canon, a project in Belgium that helped restore over 10,000 photos capturing personal memories that were damaged during the 2021 floods.
Euronews was the media partner of this year's Care Awards.