So. Here’s something I bet you’ve never thought about before. What happens to the air miles from flights paid for using public money?
…right? It’s a setup that allows politicians and public servants to earn free flights on the back of taxpayers. In Brazil, the campaign group Reclame Aqui and agency Grey Brazil decided to do something about it and created the platform MilesforThePeople.com
, to shame politicians into giving their airmiles back to the people. As aspiring young athletes struggle to cover the cost of travelling to important, career-defining tournaments or sick people delay treatment that they can’t afford to travel for, it struck Grey and Reclame Aqui that something was seriously wrong with the system.
The project arose against the backdrop of a turbulent time in Brazilian politics. In 2018, corruption became a key debate during the country’s elections. As a result the National Congress saw its biggest turnover in 30 years. Of the elected deputies, 48% are new to the congressional floor and 85% of senators are new.
Going into 2019, the pressure was on to make sure this new crop of officials did not follow the corrupt ways of their predecessors, explains Grey Brazil chief creative officer Adriano Matos. “2019 is a very special year in Brazilian politics: the National Congress was totally renewed and there are more new faces than ever. Tired of the recent past of corruption, Brazilian society has required a lot of responsibility with the public money of these new politicians. In that context, we came across the issue of the air miles.”
From a strategic point of view, the team managed to maximise the guilt trip by carrying out the campaign in a carefully planned manner. Instead of rushing in and raising a stink straight away, they first approached the politicians politely, to give them the chance to save face. Most ignored the olive branch, a few made unfulfilled promises to return the mile. That served to give the movement much more firepower.
“In fact, the strategy was carefully thought out and divided into stages: first we went to Brasilia to talk to politicians and politely ask for the miles back,” says Adriano. “They did not give us. So, we triggered the most influential voices in the country, shedding light on the issue and asking for support. They engaged immediately because the theme seems absurd to everyone.”
Reclame Aqui worked with influencers to engage the public and thousands headed to social media, demanding that politicians give back their air miles.
It wasn’t without its challenges. “The biggest challenge whenever facing the political class is that you’re picking a fight with powerful people,” says Adriano. “But this time we left room for them to position themselves by doing what is right. And some did. Several Brazilians have already travelled with miles generated by their money paid in taxes.”
The campaign had immediate impact. 20 politicians used the platform to make their miles available. As a result all sorts of Brazilians who need travel – such as athletes, scientists and people needing health treatment – were able to use the air miles. But, even more astonishingly, just days after the public phase of the campaign launched, federal deputy Rodrigo Coelho presented a bill forcing a change in the law guaranteeing that miles generated by tickets paid with public money to be returned to the people.
“I was surprised when deputy Rodrigo Coelho brought up the matter by proposing that the miles generated by air tickets paid with public money be returned to the people. I believe that the campaign highlighted an important issue in the right way, with the perfect tone of voice and so it was so effective in such a short time,” says Adriano.
This isn’t the first time that Reclame Aqui and Grey Brazil have collaborated to pile on the political pressure. Grey worked with Reclame Aqui on the Mobile Lion Grand Prix-winning Corruption Detector last year. The two organisations have been working together since 2015. “We decided to work together because we are both very idealistic; we really believe we can change the world with the power of creativity. If Reclame Aqui was an ad agency, they would be Grey. If Grey was a consumer service company, we would be Reclame Aqui. We are like perfect soulmates.”