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The Brief

The Arrels Foundation works with homeless people in Barcelona where, in 2013/4, an estimated 3,000 people were sleeping on the street, a figure the Foundation is working to reduce to zero.

A key challenge it faces in achieving this goal is overcoming people’s attitude towards the homeless. For a start, homelessness is not a social issue that is top of people’s minds, according to Leandro Raposo, Creative President and Founder, The Cyranos/McCann.

Other social causes with greater celebrity involvement attract heavier media coverage, he points out. Worse, many people believe it is homeless people’s own fault when they become so. As a result of both, many people now sleeping on the street have become, in effect, invisible.

“Homelessness is an easy cause to centralise in fundraising terms, if you want to help the homeless there is a ‘point of sale’ on practically every street corner. But by dropping a coin into the tin of a homeless person all you are doing is helping them to live another day, not eradicate and solve the homeless problem,” he explains.

“We knew we had to come up with more than an awareness campaign to salvage the human being behind each invisible homeless person and to involve people with more purchasing power and media clout , such as big brands, in that effort to help.”

The Creative Idea

The creative team’s starting point was to consider ways to make the homeless, made invisible by society, visible again so they set out to find an idea for a social good campaign that would give something back in exchange for a donation. Street dwellers felt strongly they’d been left out of society, Raposo explains. What was needed was an idea that could draw them back in.

Inspiration for the idea to create fonts came from the handwritten signs many homeless people use to ask for help from passers by, he adds. “We thought: what better way for them to get back into society and be helpful than as a unique person whose handwriting, that same writing that shamed them when scrawled on pieces of cardboard for begging, could also be a source of pride and differentiation.”

Fonts are used daily, and paid for. The opportunity was to produce new fonts based on individual homeless people’s handwriting as both a vehicle to convey stories about those involved and raise funds for the 1,400 people in Barcelona the Foundation supports.

“It is a 'transversal' idea that serves several things at once: it raises visibility, awareness, dignity and money,” Raposo believes. But it also provides a way to deepen engagement, both between the Foundation and its audience, and between font users and their audience, through individual human stories. “All brands seek to humanise themselves, and they need to,” he says. “Ultimately, all the homeless need is to be seen in order to feel useful and belong again to the society they live in.”

To see the full HomelessFonts campaign for yourself, watch the film below:

Homeless Fonts Case Study Film

The Execution

Working in close partnership with the Arrels Foundation, The Cyranos/McCann selected ten homeless men and women with ten very different stories of how they ended up living on the street to make people realise that homelessness could happen to anyone.

The creative team recruited some of the best typographers in Barcelona to back the project by donating their skills and time. They then set up a font workshop at which homeless participants undertook various typographic exercises, which were then scanned and converted into usable fronts.

With only a limited budget, it was critical to maximise awareness of and access to the fonts once launched. The idea was to sell the fonts via a dedicated ecommerce website, HomelessFonts.org, with all parties purchasing fonts receiving a quality seal identifying the project and so demonstrating their social commitment.

“It’s a campaign idea that viral-ises itself, because every time someone uses that font on social networks or when it appears on a product or on a poster for a brand it explains what the project is about,” Raposo believes. The web site would also carry stories about each of the individual’s whose handwriting was used and a documentary about the scheme made by production company Oxigeno.

The hope was that earned media interest would get the message out, which it did, around the world, thanks to coverage by national media and global organisations including the BBC, Fast Company and CNN.

The Response

HomelessFonts was launched by the Arrels Foundation in partnership with The Cyranos / McCann in June 2014 with an initial five fonts.

Post-launch, additional typographers came forward to support the project and help further evolve the typefaces. Meanwhile, Monotype came on board providing the project with access to its downloading platform. By the end of 2015, ten HomelessFonts will be available.

Within its first few months, HomelessFonts were purchased and downloaded by 307 organisations and individuals generating record proceeds and unprecedented empathy for the homeless people of Barcelona. Furthermore, the initiative attracted global media interest which, in turn, fuelled public support.

“Followers of the Foundation on Facebook and other social networks quintupled. Many of our font creators were invited to interviews and motivational talks around the world to tell their story, and companies like Coca-Cola expressed an interest,” Raposo adds.

“Homelessfonts were even purchased for a line of mugs and casual clothing, while decorators used them for a number of leading high street brands’ flag ship stores.” 

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