Cannes Lions

Return to Sender


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On April 17 2017, something remarkable happened: the vice-president of Ghana, Mr. Mahamudu Bawumia, announced on national television a new policy to reduce the sulphur content in petroleum products by the factor 60. This revolutionary change in the law was the climax of a campaign that began with a few humble plastic canisters – and a simple but powerful idea...

Back in summer 2016 the Swiss NGO Public Eye published a 160-page report, that unveiled a shocking truth: big oil traders like Trafigura blend cheap fuel with sulphur levels hundred times over European limits an sell this «dirty diesel» in African countries. There, the weakness of local fuel standards can be exploited – and easy money can be made.

In order to expose this practice and push Trafigura and the national authorities in Africa to change it, Public Eye had to act and to present the findings to a large public in Europe and Africa. The NGO asked us to create a campaign that communicates the extensive subject in smart way and would mobilize as many people as possible to sign a petition against the dirty business of Trafigura. All on a tight budget.

To show the shocking health impacts dirty diesel has on the African population, we created a multichannel campaign that spanned two continents – literally. Local activists in Accra, Ghana, captured the polluted air into canisters and returned them back to the sender. As a reaction to the dirty business, we sent the air in a shipping container back to its perpetrator: Trafigura in Geneva, Switzerland. What goes around, comes around.

The campaign was implemented in three phases: First, the audience was shown a teaser film with the local people capturing the polluted air to return it to the sender.?In phase two, the journey of the dirty air to Switzerland started and became a public event. People could follow the cargo ship in real time on the website The website also provided extensive information about the report and led to a petition demanding Trafigura to stop their dirty business. In phase 3, the dirty air was eventually returned to the sender, to Trafigura - under the watchful eyes of Swiss national television.

The campaign was a success on many levels. Not only was the petition signed by more than 19’000 people. Furthermore, Public Eye gained many new members.

Above all, the campaign generated a storm in the media, both in Europe and Africa. Under the mounting pressure the national government of Ghana had to take action and to toughen the standards by reducing the sulphur content from 3000 parts per million to 60 ppm. Shortly after, Benin, Togo, Ivory Coast and Nigeria followed.

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