Human Rights Watch · Call It Out

A text-based campaign to call out hate as it happens

 In the lead up to the 2016 Presidential Election, Human Rights Watch were interested in exploring what it looked like to counter the increasingly negative narratives happening around the country and around the world. At the suggestion of a close friend of Agency’s, Andre Banks*, they started a pilot communications project, and we were brought in to explore ideas and put them into action.

Needless to say, everything changed on November 9. Like the rest of the country (and the world), we had a reality in President Trump that we hadn’t gambled on. While there was certainly still merit in the original plan, we pivoted away from exploration to focus on immediate action.

But where to start?

When you’re forced into a quick pivot, it’s often good to take a step back and survey the landscape for a moment before jumping back in. But you can’t take too long. We find it’s useful to assess:

  1. Pre-existing assets and the amount of internal staff capacity available,
  2. Prominent conversations in the media that could be leveraged for increased reach or impact, and
  3. What you’re best positioned to contribute.

We had a bunch of early motion graphics concepts (below), a few staff with availability for campaign strategy and production capacity, and messaging and communications frameworks built up for different types of scenarios.

And aside from America tearing itself apart trying to figure out how this had happened, there was a lot of concern on the left around the hate acts that had been sprouting up in the days following the election. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) had already been doing a great job of tracking hate, but this was mostly done using forms on their site, and didn’t seem easily accessible for people when they might need it most.

This brought us to a simple question: what would it look like if we gave people a tool to report hate in real time?

The answer? Call It Out. A custom number you can save in your phone and text as it happens. No remembering specific websites or organisations, no waiting until you’re at a computer and no special apps to download. After texting in ‘callitout’ it’s all right there in your pocket, ready to go.

Texting and juggling at speed

As soon as the idea of using a text-driven campaign was on the table, everyone was on board. It was simple, easily understandable and, with an agreement being put in place with SPLC, could add real value to the work that was already underway.

There was a lot to do. And it all had to happen at once. Andre worked with the team at HRW on core campaign communications. We contributed where we could while juggling production assets and, more importantly, the messaging system itself.


An early set of texts based on assumptions of the systems we were investigating, what people might require in different circumstances, and what might be required to make it as easy to use as possible.

Beyond refining our own messaging as we went, we were constantly twisting the content to fit the requirements of the various platforms we were investigating. We needed to explore user flows in a way that was both easily understood by all, and very simple to chop and change on the fly. Hello, Google Drawings.

While a Google app might seem like a strange element to highlight, our more professional user experience apps would’ve been cumbersome when there was so much up in the air, and tables and spreadsheets can be hard to grasp at a glance. It’s always good to know the right tool for the job.

Getting the message out

We created a number of general share graphics and communications that spoke directly to the tool, how to use it and what to do in situations when you’re confronted by hate. And we worked with Andre and HRW to develop a script which contextualized HRW’s position, and the situation the country now found itself in.

‘It is the darkest decline in global values we’ve seen in our 38 years standing up for human rights.’


The final video leveraged the early motion concepts, and focused on a simple use of typography and animation to create a bold style as efficiently as possible. As always, music has a huge influence on tone, and this piece was chosen to convey the sinister nature of the content, and the urgency of the moment.


With acts of hate becoming increasingly normalized around the country in the weeks following the election, the campaign spoke directly to the real need to call them out. While it wasn’t the project Human Rights Watch initially expected (or the results that most Americans wanted), it demonstrated that they could contribute to these narratives in new and different ways, and engage people in ways that mattered. We look forward to seeing where they go from here.


Human Rights Watch

*With Trump pushing people apart, there’s nothing like coming together

Not sure if you were aware, but we don’t always do everything solo. We love partnering with other talented companies and individuals when we get the opportunity, and few more so than Andre Banks.

We initially met Andre in the early days of AllOut, and have been working with him in various capacities ever since. He recently accepted a very exciting position at Berlin Rosen, and we look forward to more productive collaborations with him and team in the future.

Follow Andre