Human rights. Our rights: reframing human rights

Woman looking concerned
A focus group participant reacts to a fake product that poses a threat to our human rights

Equally Ours’s Communications Director, Kathryn Quinton, on our new human rights campaign.

It’s not often that human rights campaigns win the hearts and minds of both Conservative and Labour voters, Leavers and Remainers. But that’s exactly what the pilot of our new long-term campaign has achieved.

The campaign, ‘Human rights. Our rights’, used all the values-based strategic communications techniques that we at Equally Ours have refined over the years to target the sizeable group of the British public – around 40% – who are conflicted about human rights.

This 40% matter to policy makers and campaigners alike. They’re broadly representative of the British public in terms of voting behaviour and demographics, and they’re open to persuasion in both a negative and progressive direction on a range of social issues.

Changing minds on human rights

Using short, impactful videos on social media, the pilot grabbed attention and changed minds. In just four weeks people viewed the videos a total of 2.4 million times – 47% above target. And the percentage who went on to watch the video to completion was 32%, exceeding the benchmarked target by 64%. Crucially, the pilot took people from ‘Human rights aren’t relevant to me’ to ‘Know your human rights and those of others. Fight to keep them.’

In the short term, with threats to the Human Rights Act looming, it has never been more urgent to build public support for human rights, particularly among the 40%. And in the longer term, the chance to show that human rights are tools that unify people around values, across party lines and Brexit polarities, is a chance our divided nation can’t afford to miss.

Reframing human rights across the board

We know what works and what needs to happen next. ‘Human rights. Our rights’ is designed as an overarching campaign that supports partners and collaborators to participate. Activity by us all ladders up and creates change that is greater than the sum of its parts. We’d love to hear from organisations and funders who might want to get involved.

In the meantime, here’s more about what we did and what we learned about changing hearts and minds on human rights.

Human Rights. Our rights.

When it comes to human rights, our 40% target audience believe in them deep down but, bombarded by hostile rhetoric from politicians and the mainstream media, feel that human rights have ‘gone too far’. They don’t see the relevance and benefit of them in their everyday lives.

Based on our research on reframing human rights in a way that resonates with this audience, we developed a five-year attitudinal change campaign strategy, underpinned by a theory of change.

Over the past year, we worked with the amazing advertising agency, mcgarreybowen, to bring these insights to life under the campaign brand ‘Human rights. Our rights’, and ran a pilot campaign in May.

Targeting a segment of the conflicted public characterised by a keen sense of right and wrong and an eroded trust in the establishment, we wanted to do three things:

  • prompt a conscious reappraisal of human rights
  • explore whether a human rights-based can play a part in increasing more positive views around migration
  • and demonstrate what a strategic communications approach to this task looks like and can achieve.

Strategic communications in action

Our approach was to engage with our audience’s everyday reality; to disarm, not confront, by connecting with their pro-social values; and to create something that makes them think and feel rather than tells them what to think and feel.

Behind the creative idea of the pilot was the insight that, when faced with unfair treatment, people in Britain instinctively stand up for their principles and will band together to defend them. And that that would prompt a realisation in those watching the films: that we believe in and care about our human rights more than we think.

We created two fake, credible products, ALAN and CreditHelper, with features and T&Cs that infringe two human rights protected by the Human Rights Act in the UK – the right to respect for private and family life and the right to freedom from slavery and forced labour.

And we tested these with six real-life focus groups, made up of people from the target audience. Their responses were genuine and unprompted. There were no actors or plants and, until the focus group was over, the participants thought the products were real.

The resulting two 60” films and two 15” teaser films show what happened: when confronted with impositions to their rights, people stood up for them. The films demonstrate that the moment we don’t feel comfortable with something is the exact moment that human rights become our ally.

The pilot campaign launched on 1 May, International Workers’ Day, and ran for a month. Through Facebook and YouTube advertising, we targeted the audience in Yorkshire and Humberside – a region where they are over-represented.

Did it change views on human rights?

In short, yes. As the figures above show, engagement with the campaign was really strong and, importantly, our commissioned survey of 1,000 people showed that it really worked to shift attitudes in a progressive direction.

The films made an immediate impact on how the conflicted British public view human rights, with statistically significant movement on most of the key statements:

  • ‘Human rights benefit me and those I care about’ (+13% agree)
  • ‘The values and principles of human rights reflect my sense of right and wrong’ (+11% agree)
  • ‘The values and principles of human rights are the basis of our shared values as a country’ (+9% agree)
  • ‘I value my human rights and would consider using them if I needed to’ (+7% strongly agree)

Looking at demographic subgroups and voting behaviour, the films resonated with a broad audience. Interestingly, they were even more effective with Conservative and Leave voters, and those aged 55-60, than with Labour and Remain voters.

For example, there was an 18% shift in Conservative voters agreeing that ‘Human rights benefit me and those I care about’ compared to a 12% shift in Labour voters. And an 11% shift in Leave voters agreeing that ‘the values and principles of human rights are the basis of our shared values as a country’ compared to a 5% shift in Remain voters.

Migration deliberately wasn’t a central theme of the campaign but, drawing on the Common Cause Foundation’s work on values and their ‘spillover effect’, we wanted to explore whether there was any positive knock-on effect on attitudes to migration.

There was always going to be a limit to what a 60 second film could achieve so, while we didn’t expect to see statistically significant shifts, there was promising movement in the right direction on all our statements relating to the treatment of migrants and responsibility for integration. There’s more work to be done to identify how building a human rights culture can create the right basis for positive attitudes and policy responses to migration.

And, finally, the survey showed that the campaign really cut through: ‘interesting’, ‘informative’ and ‘thought-provoking’ were the words most used to describe the films. Responding to open-ended questions, the respondents played back the importance of human rights in our lives:

‘We all need to be aware of the impact our human rights have in our life and what would happen if they are taken away.’

‘Know your human rights and those of others. Fight to keep them.’

‘Human rights are a fundamental part of who we are and how we live and interact with each other.’

‘I didn’t realise how empowering human rights are.’

What next for reframing human rights?

In our pilot campaign we’ve demonstrated that, by using a strategic communications approach, we really can win the public’s hearts and minds on human rights.

Through collaboration, we want to deliver the next phases of the campaign, always staying open to learning from others who have tried new approaches to reach and connect with people.

I said in my last blog post on the campaign that the more we all tell a different, positive, relevant story about human rights, one that speaks to people’s everyday reality, needs and aspirations, the more people will value, use and celebrate them.

And crucially, with renewed threats to our human rights protections on the horizon, the more unthinkable it will become that they could be eroded or taken away.

We’d love to hear from you.

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