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UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency

Launching one of UNHCR’s largest global campaigns to change negative perceptions of refugees.

The Challenge

To raise awareness of issues and disrupt current, often negative, public conversation around refugees.

The Insight

Leveraging a campaign that raised awareness and changed perceptions of the refugee crisis could shift the conversation.

The Solution

A personable, engaging activation featuring UNHCR’s Goodwill Ambassadors that motivated target audiences to sign up and donate to the cause.

In late 2019, the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) faced a major challenge.

Across the world, intolerance of refugees was growing, and the refugee crisis had faded into the background. An increasing number of people (>50%) are convinced that refugees coming to their country are not genuine, and almost as many want to close their borders.

Blue State was asked to help generate public awareness and engagement around the first-ever Global Refugee Forum. The aim was to create compelling public-facing content to commemorate the first Forum, led by UNHCR alongside Member States, international organizations, refugees, civil society, the private sector, and subject matter experts. We were tasked with creating and producing a campaign that would get the public talking about and positively engaging on the issue of refugees, while also celebrating refugees’ achievements around the world.

Understanding attitudes to overcome barriers

Blue State researched and studied attitudes towards refugees to understand what would impact public opinion. Using UNHCR’s existing ‘Everyone Counts’ manifesto, Blue State was tasked with creating a fresh and timely narrative that not only highlighted the challenges refugees faced, but drew attention to their positive contributions to society and called on everyone to take action.

Leveraging UNHCR’s Goodwill Ambassadors

The #EveryOneCounts central campaign was shot in locations around the world. Working closely with UNHCR’s Goodwill Ambassador team, the film featured the voices of both celebrity supporters but also refugees. In total, 16 well-known UNHCR Ambassadors, supporters from all over the world, were featured in the film, including Benedict Cumberbatch, Ben Stiller, Cate Blanchett, Nomzamo Mbatha, David Morrissey, and Riz Ahmed. The well known faces challenged and gently satirized the idea of the ‘celebrity led’ film, before placing a range of refugees themselves center stage.

Cate Blanchett interviewing Razan Alsous, a refugee who started her own cheesemaking business.

As a second-tier to the public engagement campaign, Blue State created a concept and template creative enabling UNHCR to run an innovative social media campaign featuring refugees ‘taking over’ the social channels of celebrities, including Stephen Fry and Neil Gaiman. 

During these takeovers, Ambassadors posted unusual facts and unknown success stories — seemingly about themselves — later revealing that these were in fact the stories and contributions of refugees. The featured refugee stories included Razan Alsous, the founder of Yorkshire Dama cheese, and Syrian female pilot Maya Ghazal.

Across the campaign, the public was directed to an innovative online quiz questioning how, if they were leaders and decision makers, they would help refugees. After taking the quiz, the participants received a personality type (e.g., activist, community builder) and a set of corresponding actions they could take, showing that there isn’t just one way to help refugees. This included ‘stickers’ for Instagram that would promote their personality type and encourage others to take the quiz.

UNHCR Everyone Counts Quiz

The campaign film was promoted on UNHCR’s social channels including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn. Blue State developed  display advertising, as well as 10 stickers for use on social channels to allow individuals to share inspiring stories about refugees.

The campaign outcome

The campaign reached more than 538M individuals on Twitter. The #EveryOneCounts video collected nearly 8 million views, and there were more than 10,000 visits to the #EveryOneCounts website and quiz.

52% of mentions expressed joy at the campaign or stories they uncovered, and doubled positive sentiment on Twitter around the topic of refugees.

When comparing the week of the awareness campaign launch with the seven days prior, 22% more money was raised globally, and the global conversion rate increased by 27.9%. 

UNHCR worked with its offices globally to promote the campaign across the world, and the quiz was used by Italy, China, MENA, Canada, Hong Kong, and France rolling out activity from January 2020 onwards.


  • 2x positive sentiment around the topic of refugees on Twitter
  • 7.41m views of the #EveryOneCounts video
  • 22% increase in global funds raised
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