How ads helped end Colombia's civil war

Power of advertising proven in Colombian campaign that helped bring rebels out of the jungle after 52 years of civil war

Ads affect civil war
Ads affect civil war 01:57

Given the chance to sell peace, rather than a breakfast cereal or a bottle of spirits, a Colombian ad executive stepped up with ideas that persuaded rebels to lay down arms and eventually end a 50-year civil war. Lara Logan talks to that ad man in her report about a transformation in Colombia that could not have been achieved without ending the country’s long civil war.  Her story will be broadcast on 60 Minutes, Sunday, Dec. 11 at 7 p.m. ET/PT.

Colombian ad executive Jose Miguel Sokoloff and 60 Minutes correspondent Lara Logan CBS News

The ad man, Jose Miguel Sokoloff,  took his assignment from the government of Colombia personally.  “This gives us the chance to apply our skills to something that is fundamentally important to us, to our kids, to our country,” he tells Logan.   Sokoloff is the chief creative officer and co-chairman of MullenLowe SSP3, the Bogota office of global advertising network MullenLowe. He is also the network’s worldwide creative leader. His government had been at war with the Marxist guerillas of the FARC for nearly all his life. His assignment: to demobilize as many of them as possible.

There were several campaigns, including ads telling the rebels society would take them back, a successful soccer-themed pitch, and another one placed on jungle trees in which rebels’ mothers implored their sons and daughters to drop their arms.  One of the most effective, however, was a Christmas effort.  Decorative lights were carried directly into known rebel strongholds and strung on trees, while motion detector spot lights lit up banners telling rebels “If Christmas can come to the jungle, you can come home. Demobilize.  At Christmas, everything is possible.”

The Christmas lights campaign, says Sokoloff, resulted in 331 -- about five percent of the entire force at the time -- coming out of the jungle. “Advertising is a very, very powerful force.  In the good you can do by changing minds of people in certain ways,” says Sokoloff.

All told, some 18,000 rebels eventually demobilized and guerilla activity, including bombings, raids and other deadly tactics that marred the reputation of Colombia, ceased.  The peace with the rebels is at the center of a transformation of Colombia from a place shunned by tourists to a real travel destination.  Other efforts to rebuild cities, create libraries and tourist attractions have coincided with a drop-off in drug violence that has made the country more attractive. Not just in Bogota, but also in places with reputations for drugs and violence like Cali, and Medellin, the former murder capital of the world.  “If you had been there ten years ago and you go today, you would say, ‘This is a completely different planet,’” Sokoloff tells Logan.