Woerde inspiring Amsterdam ad creatives to change the world

The Dutch Art Director’s Club (ADCN) is organising a ‘Summer Program’ with inspiring speakers that share their adventures in Adland. Last Tuesday it was Mark Woerde’s turn, the one speaker we were most keen on listening to. Woerde, who is a partner at Lemz, is one of the brains behind the case that will probably end up very high in the Gun Report this year; Sweetie. We were following Woerde already for a while, because in 2011 he published the book How Advertising Will Heal The World. Quite a bold statement, since advertising is still a marketing discipline that specialises in generating paid attention. But at the ADCN night Woerde convincingly showed some 40 ad creatives, how a relatively small agency can indeed change world politics.

Woerde, who easily talked for more than an hour at the Art Director Club’s headquarters on the Polonceaukade in Amsterdam, started with sharing his personal mission; “Some admen step out of the business because they’ve sold their agency, some keep fiddling in the margins of advertising, and I just wanted to do something that is more meaningful than your regular advertising.” Which is of course why Woerde wrote his book. But when it was out there and he did over 200 talks around the world to spread the word, he still had the feeling he wasn’t doing enough. He then realised it should be his mission to convince brands, and agencies especially, to go for a Nobel Peace Prize – speaking of aiming for the stars!

And then, when he came across a news message about child abuse through webcams, he had suddenly found the worldwide problem he and his agency wanted to solve. First, the agency talked with a great amount of experts to learn more about the under-aged sexcams, including Unicef, the FBI, and – last but not least – the UN. Lemz quickly found out that to the international authorities it was an invisible crime, which is why hardly anyone had ever been tried for it. That’s how the agency came up with the idea to simply expose sexcam ‘predators.’ It set up chat between the predators and a fake, 3D animated girl, called ‘Sweetie.’ The ad agency had to be very prudent though in exposing individuals, because private parties obviously don’t have the legal authority to play for the law.

Terre des Hommes
Once the agency had sketched out the idea roughly, they approached the Dutch chapter of Terre des Hommes. The charity bought into the idea quite quickly – “Because I can come across very enthusiastically when talking to clients and my colleague, Willem, can come across very seriously.” – and decided to spend their entire year budget on it. Then Lemz planted a server in Kirghizia, founded a fake agency in Switzerland and rented an empty building somewhere in the North of Amsterdam. In that building a team of Lemz people worked on the project for months – the project was so secret that even within Lemz hardly anybody knew about it. In their war room Lemz collected a thousand names of predators within 6 weeks, by simply using public search engines and databases. The agency later found out that Interpol could probably do the same amount within a week. Woerde: “If you think privacy on the internet exists, think again.”

Finally, in November 2013, Lemz organised a big press conference in which they broke their case. The agency invited every news agency and channel in the world, and announced to reveal one of the biggest criminal networks on the planet. An exciting climax; the same day Sweetie became world news.

Call to action
Woerde’s goal of the night though was not to brag about Sweetie. Yes, it did make an impressive casefilm, he told us later, but what he especially wanted to pass on is what it takes to change international politics. Sweetie was not an awareness campaign, but a campaign containing a clear call to action. With genuine conviction Woerde showed us that the ad industry can change the world and make it a little better, if only we put our minds to it. And at club ADCN he has planted some fruitful seeds we’re sure, cause the audience couldn’t stop asking questions. Even after the talk was finished the crowd lined up to be further inspired by Woerde in how to win that Nobel Peace Price. Or, for some even better, a Grand Prix for Good, as will probably be the case for Lemz next week.