Award-Winning Campaign To Eliminate Prostitution Takes A Dark Approach

Sep 29, 2016
Originally published on September 30, 2016 9:19 am

Riccardo Fregoso, executive creative director of McCann Paris, discusses the firm's Clio Award-winning ad called "The Girls of Paradise," which draws potential johns in for a rude surprise.

The campaign starts with a website that looks like many your could find on the Internet, a page that promised a gallery of potential escorts for one to choose from. But it's a fake: As soon as the visitor clicks through enough times, the website tells the visitor about the fate of the woman he has chosen — death, usually by violence.

The campaign is intended to demonstrate, in a very visceral way, that johns are complicit in the violence enacted upon women in the sex trade. You can view the ad campaign here (warning: there are some graphic images).

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The Clios are the top international awards in advertising. As you would expect, many of the winners are campaigns that make people feel warm and fuzzy - not Girls of Paradise. This is a campaign that goes in a much darker direction. And the conversation we're about to have might not be appropriate for some listeners.

The company McCann Paris devised Girls of Paradise for a French NGO that works to eliminate prostitution.

Riccardo Fregoso is executive creative director of McCann in Paris. Welcome, and congratulations on your gold Clio award.


SHAPIRO: Girls of Paradise starts with a website that looks like many that someone could find on the internet. Describe it for us.

FREGOSO: Yeah. I mean, it just presents a series of escort girls - ordinary escort girls.

SHAPIRO: Ordinary escort girls, yeah.

FREGOSO: Yeah. And then if you decide to click on a profile, you discover that these girls are already dead or already severely injured.

SHAPIRO: So somebody who wants to hire one of these escorts goes through the photographs thinking they are going to hire a prostitute. And at the end they find out this prostitute was killed. And these are all real women who were really killed or injured?

FREGOSO: These are all real stories. We basically started the project by doing researches and exchanges with NGO, Mouvement du Nid.

SHAPIRO: This is the organization that hired McCann to design this campaign?

FREGOSO: Yeah, absolutely. And, I mean, most of the volunteers are involved in the NGO are ex-prostitutes, so they have stories to tell.

SHAPIRO: You could easily have invented characters and created fictitious women for this campaign.


SHAPIRO: Why was it important to you to tell the stories of real women who were themselves killed?

FREGOSO: Most of the clients don't know at all that maybe the person that they meet just once, then is going to have some very violent encounters. OK. So let's show the reality to the clients. If we don't have the reality, then it's just, I mean, a trap for clients. But it's going to sound fake and ineffective.

SHAPIRO: The campaign included phone conversations - in French of course - where these people who are hoping to hire a prostitute called. And they were told when they called, I'm sorry this woman is unavailable, her pimp threw her off a bridge. Or she attempted suicide and was severely disfigured.


SHAPIRO: And you share the reactions of these men. How did people respond?

FREGOSO: Most of them were surprised, scandalized and just wanted to end the conversation.

But then we have two very important minorities. One minority of reactions is violent, reaction's aggressive. Or also, like, making jokes. A person answering that if the prostitute was at the hospital, maybe her friend was available.


FREGOSO: And - yeah. And there is another minority that is showing compassion, showing interest for the story.

SHAPIRO: This past April, France passed a new law removing penalties for solicitation. And it made for the first time paying for sex illegal.


SHAPIRO: What impact do you think the law will have?

FREGOSO: It's working since April. So I just read that there were already 300 clients penalized.

And then of course, I mean, most importantly is public opinion. France has a machist (ph) attitude.

SHAPIRO: Sort of macho, you mean?

FREGOSO: Yeah. I mean, toward prostitution, I mean, like, it's a sort of manly right. And now it's changing. I mean, people are aware that if you choose to pay for sex, then there is violence that is involved within it.

SHAPIRO: Riccardo Fregoso is with McCann Paris, the advertising agency that won a Clio award for its campaign Girls of Paradise.

Thank you very much for joining us.

FREGOSO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.