Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment

How to break the debt taboo?

An estimated one in ten households in the Netherlands has problematic debts or risk of them. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment asked EMMA and Silo to develop a campaign to resolve the debt taboo. But what is the taboo and how do you break it?

Conquer your shame

There is a big taboo on having financial problems. We prefer to keep it to ourselves. Because of shame, people with debts isolate themselves. This causes the problems to pile up. The campaign encourages people to conquer their shame. By talking about debt, people with money problems take the first step towards a solution.

Leading role for ambassadors

Real people with problematic debt play a leading role in the campaign. These ambassadors have experienced that to come out about your debt helps you get out of it. The ambassadors were portrayed by Jan Dirk van der Burg. Like no other, he is able to capture their power and sincerity. The photographs show that life with a problematic debt is difficult, but that you can be proud of how you deal with it.

Personal stories

“Don’t be ashamed of your financial problems. It can happen to anyone,” says Anneke Sweep, one of the ambassadors. Real personal stories are central to the campaign. The amount of debt is shown deliberately and prominently. That too is part of breaking the taboo. The reactions online show how relevant and sensitive the topic is: some people react negatively and disapprovingly; others show their respect.

Daily dilemmas

The portraits are coupled with dilemmas that illustrate the daily struggles of debtors. They generate recognition among the primary target group – people in or on the verge of problematic debts – and increase the understanding and awareness of the general public. The pay-off Can you deal with it? (‘Kom jij er uit?’) is a question for the portrayed person, but also for the audience. After all, anyone can get into debt.

In the portraits, Jan Dirk van der Burg has found the right balance between pride and straightforwardness.

Enabling a local approach

The campaign is part of a national program in which the ministry cooperates with many partners, including the Tax and Customs Administration, municipalities, and the National Ombudsman. The communication toolkit offers partners an easy way to apply the campaign identity within their own local programs. This grassroots approach results in a greater impact.

During the congress, Queen Máxima engaged in conversation with the campaign ambassadors.

ClientMinistry of Social Affairs and EmploymentYear2019CreditsEMMA (campaign strategy), Jan Dirk van der Burg (photography)
Dennis Flinterman

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