The Trillion Dollar Campaign was an innovative way to protest Zimbabwe’s record breaking hyperinflation which reached the unbelievable mark of 231,000,000% in October 2008. The campaign was launched in 2009 with the goal of promoting the newspaper called The Zimbabwean, whom President Mugabe was giving a hard time, as well as increasing awareness of the total collapse of the Zimbabwean dollar.
Instead of trying to explain all the problems faced by the newspaper the creative team of the advertising agency TBWA Hunt Lascaris went with a tangible symbol of the country’s collapse, the worthless currency. They designed an outdoor advertising campaign that threw away trillion dollar notes with a message. Large murals measuring 1.5 meters by 5 meters and composed of hundreds or thousands of banknotes were pasted across walls along streets with heavy foot traffic, and billboard spaces were purchased overlooking several highways. Bold messages such as “It’s Cheaper To Print This On Money Than Paper” and “Thanks to Mugabe This Money Is Wallpaper” were printed on actual Zimbabwean 100 trillion dollar bank notes, whose value at that time was less than USD5. Bundles of cash were mailed to media personalities. The newspaper’s contact details were printed on bank notes and attached to posters wherever The Zimbabwean was sold.
Though the campaign was launched in 2009, the story of the campaign actually dates back to 1999, the year in which Wilf Mbanga founded an independent Zimbabwean newspaper titled The Daily News. The paper operated for three years before Mbanga was arrested for anti-government activities and The Daily News was banned by the Government of Zimbabwe. Though Mbanga was released, he faced several life threats in Zimbabwe and therefore fled to Europe. From there he started operating a new newspaper ‘The Zimbabwean’ featuring stories from the country and printed in South Africa.
The Zimbabwean highlighted the continuing turmoil in Zimbabwe and how the Mugabe regime had rigged elections, crushed the opposition, caused poverty, disease and the total collapse of the economy. When the country went to the polls in 2008 The Zimbabwean was blamed by the government of Robert Mugabe for its losses. Its delivery truck was hijacked and burnt, and the paper was punished with a 55% ‘luxury’ import tax. Within a year, the newspaper’s circulation dropped from 150,000 to 30,000. At wit’s end, Mbanga approached Johannesburg-based advertising agency TBWA Hunt Lascaris in search of a solution.
Meanwhile, Zimbabwe’s national economy was under crisis. The land reform policies of 1990 hit hard on the country’s economic and social scene. Mugabe added fuel to it by authorizing Zimbabwean troops to fight in the second Congo war. And to top it all, Mugabe’s government was printing high denomination currency to finance troops in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Zimbabwe’s original currency consisted of six denominations in paper notes ranging from Z$2 to Z$20. As the inflation rose, larger bills were needed to pay for menial amounts. Soon the Central Bank of Zimbabwe was churning out notes of insane denomination – 10 trillion, 20 trillion, 50 trillion and culminating in 100 trillion dollar.
The Trillion Dollar Campaign became highly successful and soon gathered significant publicity in the print media, television, radio and the internet. It won several awards including the most prestigious Grand Prix in the Outdoor category of the 2009 Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival, the most prestigious awards ceremony in the advertising industry.
Zimbabwe’s notorious 100 trillion dollar notes are currently on permanent exhibit at the British museum in London.