Searching For Syria

R/GA LondonUnited Kingdom


Production / Professional


Google Brand Studio - Co-Agency, UNHCR - Client


The Syrian refugee crisis is the worst humanitarian disaster of our generation, but after 7 years people are tuning out. The extent of the devastation caused to Syria and its people is hard for many people to comprehend – in terms of both its sheer scale and the complexity and proliferation of information.

Through Google’s search trends we understand what the world is searching for. The UNHCR has arguably the largest amount of data, stories and access to people and journalists in the world. A partnership around data and storytelling made sense.

We set out to break down bias and misunderstanding – to help people go beyond reading about the crisis to understanding and empathising with it. The ultimate goal was to use our data to inspire people to take action – to share, join the UNHCR or, better yet, donate to those in need.

We created Searching for Syria to re-engage the world, giving people a fresh way to understand the Syrian crisis through data – not opinion or bias.

In 2016 alone, there were 160,000,000 search queries about Syria. We combined this data with data provided by the UNHCR to uncover the questions people were asking, then answer them in an accurate and compelling way.

We began by identifying the top 5 questions from millions of search queries; then we created a long-scroll narrative that answered each question with snackable and data-driven content.

Searching for Syria was designed to make a complex and ubiquitous topic feel simple and human.

The human side of the crisis was brought to life using the same Google products people around the world use every day: Maps, Search, Trends and YouTube. These products were combined with data visualisations and real stories to show the world the human behind the label “refugee.”

To keep our audience engaged with such a complex subject, our creative teams worked closely with journalists who had an intimate knowledge of the crisis to write copy that was both accurate and compelling. The UX was based on the quick scrolling behavior of platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, making the experience feel familiar and easy to digest.

Built over 6 months, Searching for Syria worked seamlessly across multiple markets, devices and formats, ensuring that no matter how people read the content, their experience was seamless.

Over 2 million people visited the site in the first month. Average time on the site was over 4 minutes.
30% of desktop users and 20% of mobile users visited the site’s “Donate” page.
Nearly $250,000 raised to date.
At launch visitors spent a collective 10 years interacting with content.
So far the site has been shared 94,000 times across social media.
More than 8,000 press articles globally, including in The Verge, Le Monde, Der Spiegel, The Brussels Times and World Economic Forum.
May 2017, when Searching for Syria was launched, was the second-highest viewing month for UNHCR YouTube content in the account’s history.


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