Cannes Lions

A High Price


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Case Film
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Stockholm-headquartered Civil Rights Defenders uses advocacy, litigation, and campaigning to defend human rights around the world.

In 2019, the theme of its winter fundraising appeal was freedom of expression; the organisation wanted to secure 500,000 SEK (EUR €50,000) in donations from the Swedish public to support its work. Our brief was to develop a standout social concept to cut through during the all-important – and extremely competitive – Christmas donation period.

We zeroed in on press freedom: Globally, 70 journalists a year are killed for their reporting – double the rate of just a decade ago. Many hundreds more annually are jailed, assaulted and kidnapped.

The target demographic was 30-45-year old Swedes: highly engaged in social issues, and identified by Internetstiftelsen (Internet Foundation of Sweden) as heavily active on social media – perfect for mobilising an emotive campaign and driving people direct to the donation site.


Our platform was clear: Too often, journalists are asked to ‘pay the highest price’ for our freedoms.

Our twist: Ask the Swedish public to ‘pay the highest price’ for their journalism.

‘The world’s most expensive article’ would be an exclusive story by a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, locked behind the biggest news paywall ever seen (Civil Rights Defenders’ donation target) and only available to donors once the entire target was reached – a truly original crowdfunding strategy.

We even increased the stakes: The paywall idea had natural appeal, we felt, and abductions of Swedish journalists in Ethiopia and Syria had already made press freedom a potent issue nationally.

We therefore vowed to raise double the amount the client had requested, setting the ‘cost’ of the article at 1,000,000 SEK (€100,000). A gamble, yes, but by challenging people (including ourselves), our analysis showed we would get closer engagement and higher donations.


Our strategy centred on creating and sharing assets of premium quality, to vindicate our ‘world’s most expensive’ tag.

For the article, after shortlisting potential writers with Civil Rights Defenders, we decided to approach Burmese foreign correspondent and Pulitzer Prize winner Esther Htu San, who was forced to flee Myanmar in 2017 for her reporting of the Rohingya crisis. She agreed, writing a deeply personal article on the threats to journalists in Myanmar – an appeal within our appeal.

Our plan was to curate a national conversation over social in the run-up to Christmas via earned outreach on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, seeded continually with high-impact assets – videos and arresting imagery, such as the ‘empty writing desk’ and ‘redacted copy’.

We supplemented this with video testimonials from four more threatened journalists (in Azerbaijan, Cuba, Ethiopia and Turkey) to keep feeding channels with high-quality content and debate right up to Christmas.


On 21 November 2019, the ‘world’s most expensive article’ campaign site went live on

We had already begun our campaign a week earlier, with a teaser video featuring Azerbaijani journalist Khadija Ismayilova (imprisoned in 2014 for her fight against corruption). Now, we released a new hero video, supported by a print ad in Sweden’s leading financial newspaper, Dagens Industri, with a ‘grab’ headline name-checking its famous editorial staff (‘Should Peter Fellman and P.M. Nilsson be sent to prison?’). Outreach to the newspaper’s database pressed the case further.

On 2 December, the campaign accelerated with the launch of a team-designed innovation – a paywall widget for supporters to install on their own platforms, driving more viral traffic to our site.

Over the following weeks, we maintained the pressure with well-timed interventions, including an activation for Human Rights Day (10 December), and the launch of a donations gift certificate for Christmas


This national campaign sparked huge interest on social: Over 2.25mn impressions, 250,000 video views, 10,000 likes, 1,000 comments and 2,000 shares.

Debate around one Facebook post on freedom of expression provoked controversial right-wing commentator Joakim LaMotte (4th largest national Facebook reach) to declare Civil Rights Defenders secret ‘leftists.’ The 70k-membership #jagärhär ‘stop-hate’ group jumped in to defend us. The whole political spectrum now became involved.

Donations flooded in and on 27 December, just five weeks after launch, our ambitious 1,000,000 SEK target was reached. The world’s most expensive article was unlocked exclusively for donors (3,000+ visits). In January 2020, the content was made publicly available.

The money raised not only doubled Civil Rights Defenders’ original target but represented a 74% increase on its previous Christmas fundraising. The average donation (272 SEK/€27) for this one article was more than twice the cost of a monthly subscription to Sweden’s biggest national newspaper.

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