Amnesty International has historically used the Olympics as an opportunity to demand improved human rights reform. As the above Amnesty International ads from Hungary for Beijing 2008 and France for Sochi 2014 demonstrate, the Olympics affords the host country significant global media exposure and criticism.
The first ad was created by DDB Budapest, showing a terrified Chinese athlete at the starting line with his coach pointing a gun to his head. The slogan reads “Stop the World Record of Executions” and underscores that despite the 2008 Beijing Olympics, we must not forget the ongoing human rights violations in China. The ad was negatively received by the China Society for Human Rights Studies, a government front organization which said the advertisements were aimed to “smear” China and disrupt social progress. Amnesty International responded that perhaps the ads were too violent, but the message remains.
The second ad was by La Chose agency for Amnesty International in France, depicting a Russian “Matryoshka” doll as a bullet to symbolize the country’s hidden political and social repression. The slogan “We must not let Russia’s charm hide its atrocities” emphasizes the continued need to pressure Russia to stop its commonplace censorship, racism, murders etc.
Clearly, both ads reflect the power of the Olympics to make host countries vulnerable to attacks and to generate significant awareness of their human rights failures. Advertising is about the art of timing, emotion and cultural relevance, and here Amnesty International has delivered.