How the Winter Olympics organisers plan to convert consumer fitness into light for refugees

The International Olympic Committee has created a campaign for the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang that converts fitness app users' physical activity into solar-powered lighting for Rwanda's Mahama refugee camp.

Created by the IOC, Publicis London and digital agency Poke, "Become the light" is a metaphor for how the Olympics, its fans and even non-fans can shine a light on the dark corners of the world.

The campaign uses light as an emblem for the Olympic values of excellence, friendship and respect and was built on the insight that nine out of 10 people in refugee camps have no access to electric lighting. It is timed to build up to the Pyeongchang Games as the Olympic Torch makes its way across host nation South Korea. 

Rebecca Lowell Edwards, director of strategic communications at the IOC, told Campaign: "Throughout the year the IOC and Olympics movement has done a lot of work on the impact of sport on society.

"The conversation started right after Rio, which had put a spotlight on the plight of refugees and how we could build on that. Then the agencies were bought in to think about the creative aspects."

Lowell Edwards pointed to today's political, economic and social upheaval and the counterpoint that the campaign and its aims represented. "It's nice to have a reminder of human resilience and the wonderful things that can be achieved when people come together," she said.

The integrated push launches today (20 November) with four films — a 90-second "anthem" ad, and three 30-second ads, each representing one of the Olympic values. It is being aired across the globe by official Olympic broadcasters. However, in the UK it will be seeded digitally as the BBC, which is broadcasting the games, does not run ads. The IOC has also created a digital trailer and full seven-minute documentary. The campaign also has a print element.

The 90-second film features vignettes of Olympians. Adopting a shadowy monochrome palette, with splashes of colour, the ad opens with a light-shrouded biathlete cross-country skiing across a darkened snowscape before she stops, raises her rifle and shoots a target set deep within a wood.

Other scenes depict ice hockey, curling, bobsleighing and snowboarding.

"Here's to those who carry the light," intones a voiceover. "A glowing example. Standing for respect, determination and wonder. Together we can shine. Together we can light up the world."

On-screen text reads: "Become the light", before the screen brightens to white and reveals the Olympic rings.

Viewers are invited to visit the campaign hub to sign up. Once signed up, they can dedicate their physical activity recorded by fitness devices such as Fitbit or Strava. Participants are encouraged to compete with their friends, peers, Olympians and the "Olympic+" community, an online forum set up for campaign participants.

All the steps collectively achieved by participants will be converted into "sparks". As different targets are met, the IOC will make donations to the UN's refugee agency, UNHCR, which will provide lights to illuminate the streets, households and sports areas at the Mahama camp, which houses 55,000 refugees.

Nick Farnhill, Publicis London and Poke chief executive, said: "Working with the IOC and UNHCR has been a huge privilege and we’re incredibly proud of the work we’ve created for this campaign. Not only is it beautifully crafted but its objective is to deliver real good in the world and hopefully transform lives."

Thomas Bach, the IOC’s president, added: "In a world of uncertainties, the message that our shared humanity is greater than the forces that divide us is more relevant than ever before. Athletes carry the light and inspire us, giving us all hope that a better world is possible. We are pleased to be able to continue our close cooperation with UNHCR and our support for refugees as part of this campaign."

The four ads were directed by Jaron Albertin and produced by Smuggler Films, while the 30-second digital trailer and seven-minute documentary were directed by Max Cutting and produced by Ceen Studio.

At Publicis, the executive creative directors were Andy Bird and Dave Monk, the creative director was Steve Paskin, the copywriters were Steve Moss, Dave Sullivan and Gregor Findlay and the art directors were Jolyon Finch and Kevin Colquhoun.

At Poke, the creative director was Malin Hanås, the copywriters were Grace Jacobson and Nimo Awil, who also co-art directed alongside Marcella Tarable.

The IOC has produced a trailer for the documentary which explains how people can get involved in the exercise challenge:

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