Freedom to Innovate, Freedom to Say No

This month we’re celebrating Freedom to Innovate, so why not begin by talking about freedom that was accomplished through an advertising campaign that history will never forget.

The year was 1988; the country, Chile. It had been 16 ½ years since the de facto leader General Augusto Pinochet had assumed power through a coup d’état that deposed the democratically elected Socialist President Salvador Allende. Since then, Chile had been ruled with an iron fist, with no freedom residing with the media. Be it newspaper, or television, everything was heavily policed by the government.

Democracy was dead, and it would have been that way if not for the external pressure by the UN and the International Community and big businesses. The result? A plebiscite, followed by an election of sorts, where the people would be allowed to vote ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ continuance of Pinochet’s term.

During the plebiscite, media channels would be allowed to advocate both sides of the story. Why they should vote yes, and why they should vote no. History tells us that the ‘No’ side won with a 56% majority. What many of us don’t know, is how it was achieved through advertising.

They began with a drab, dreary route of advertising that focused on government’s abuses. What this campaign failed to show is what the people would achieve by voting ‘No’. That’s when a young ad executive stepped in and stressed on how the ‘No’ campaign should show abstract concepts like ‘Happiness’ and ‘Freedom’. This historic campaign led people to believe in the possibility of a better Chile and a better tomorrow. And they stood up together to say ‘NO’ to the cruel regime.

As a result, Patricio Aywin became the first elected president in 17 years. But the bigger lesson is the power of advertising and its ability to touch people’s lives in a way that matters. We do not always remember that. But it’s something we should never forget.

A film, called No (2012) documents this story, and it’s worth a watch for every advertiser.

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