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How BBDO Is Using TikTok to Spread Information About Child Sex Trafficking


How BBDO Is Using TikTok to Spread Information About Child Sex Trafficking

A TikTok account created by two BBDO Atlanta creatives for Street Grace, a nonprofit dedicated to ending child trafficking and exploitation, is trying to attract the attention of Gen Z via videos that share bite-sized facts and advice on how to stay safe.

It’s the latest collaboration between the agency and Street Grace. Last year, BBDO Atlanta devised a stunt for the nonprofit that involved stringing 72 school buses together, representing the number that would be needed to transport the thousands of children sold for sex in the state of Georgia each year.

BBDO Atlanta senior art director Lauren Culbertson and senior copywriter Emily Miller officially launched the TikTok account, called “Help Locker,” in January. Each video follows roughly the same formula: A question is posed, then a locker opens up with the answers written on Post-it notes, notebook paper and dry-erase boards.

The educational videos attempt to explain things like how a sex trafficker thinks, how they groom their victims and signs of an abusive relationship. They incorporate music and editing techniques that are popular on the platform.

“We really try to make sure that we mimic what’s trending overall on TikTok,” Culbertson said.

When the pandemic hit, the two pivoted their strategy somewhat to focus on online exploitation, which has become more prevalent this year as more people stay home.  

According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, it experienced a 93% uptick in “online enticement reports” in the first half of this year compared to the same period last year. The organization defines online enticement as “an individual communicating with someone believed to be a child via the internet with the intent to commit a sexual offense or abduction.”

In that vein, one of Street Grace’s TikTok videos explains what sextortion is. “We were shocked at how many kids were commenting and saying, ‘This has happened to me.’ It makes it really real,” Miller said.

The account has grown organically to more than 108,000 followers. Culbertson it receives around 15 direct messages per week.

“A lot of the kids really seem to appreciate the information and conversation that’s happening,” Miller said. “We knew that this was a topic that people were talking about, but it was crazy how quickly it started growing on its own.”

Bob Rodgers, president and CEO of Street Grace, said one of the organization’s goals for next year is to reach 1 billion kids. He said this campaign is helping it achieve that goal.

“We couldn’t do that if it wasn’t for platforms and access like this,” he said. “This is phenomenal for the advancement of factual, useful information in the fight against the commercial sexual exploitation of children.”

Spreading factual information is a key aspect of this campaign, as misinformation on the topic spreads easily on the platform. Culbertson said that she and Miller “started seeing all this fake information” regarding sex trafficking when they first began playing around on the TikTok account. For instance, Culbertson said one theory falsely claimed that traffickers were trying to attract victims by placing jars of honey on their cars.

“We were genuinely worried,” Miller said.

As for how they landed on the locker concept, Miller said it’s “something that every kid can relate to.” Schools can also request a real “Help Locker” by visiting the campaign’s website via the TikTok account.

“With the locker, you don’t have any talent, so you don’t have to rely on booking someone to shoot with or anything like that,” Miller explained. The no-frills approach has also made it easier for them to quickly come up with ideas and film, especially during quarantine.

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