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Aesop’s campaign for anti-trafficking charity Unseen makes “Insta-poetry” sinister

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Aesop: #UnseenStories

Creative agency Aesop has created a campaign for charity Unseen, which works to end modern slavery and people trafficking. Inspired by Instagram poetry, the typographic-led identity can be seen on billboards and across a wide-scale social media campaign coinciding with Anti-Slavery Day tomorrow (18 October).

Bristol-based charity Unseen has run an anonymous hotline since 2016 that helps identify victims and assists them in finding safety, but the service is due to close at the end of November due to government cuts. The aim of the campaign is to raise awareness of the hotline’s important work and to secure further funds. “It’s estimated that there are tens of thousands of victims in the UK alone, of which a quarter are believed to be UK nationals,” Aesop designer Kira Vosper tells It’s Nice That. “We found this insight crazy as you wouldn’t expect it to happen in the UK.”

Aesop creative director Jonty Harbinson explains that in the case of modern slavery in the UK, victims are often hiding in plain sight. “There are people desperate for help right in front of our eyes, in nail bars, car washes and even restaurants,” he says. “We don’t do anything, because we don’t know what we’re looking for. It hammered home the sad truth that a face without a story is invisible.”

For the campaign, Aesop wanted to bring some of those hidden narratives to light. Called #UnseenStories, it features lines of romantic poetry where choice words have been struck through to shift the meaning into sinister, threatening or outright violent messages. Some of the poems from the campaign are based on lies told to trafficking victims to highlight how criminals prey on potential victims, while others corrupt hackneyed sentiments, for example phrases like “I lost myself to the nightlife and bright lights in London” become “I lost my life in London”.

“A common theme that spans most of the survivor stories, is the promise vs the reality,” says Harbinson. “The obvious parallels between these empty romantic promises and Insta-style, ‘Lana-Del-Rey-esque’ toxic-love poetry felt like a natural creative starting point. These stanzas steeped in equal measures of romance and tragedy shaped our stories into the short form of poetry they have become.”

The campaign cleverly uses lenticular printing, which reveals the crossed out words depending on the angle of the viewer. Vosper says, “This ended up being the perfect medium to illustrate the double narrative of the poems. As you pass each lenticular, the poem fades and builds, fluxing between a state of promise and reality.”

Aesop picked Dalton Maag’s Aktiv Grotesk because of its functional, “editorial” aesthetic, and opted for a bright, zingy green (Pantone 802) to contrast the black and white text. Aesop made the decision to solely use typography, rather than illustrations or photography, to make sure that each of the scenarios were relatable to anyone. “The seemingly impersonal nature of black and white typography is what ultimately becomes its most personal quality,” says Harbinson. “Even if just for a second, you can put yourself in the place of that person. Without the distraction of imagery, the unsettling message is unavoidable.”

Tomorrow Unseen will launch its social campaign to raise awareness of its work and the threats to its services, to coincide with Anti-Slavery Day, and for the launch it is asking Instagram users to change their social profiles to Pantone 802, which can be found in a tile of Unseen’s Instagram page.

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Aesop: #UnseenStories