The Children’s Society has launched a nationwide advertising campaign to
raise public awareness of its role as the charity which fights for the
rights of children. Andy Fry reports
Why should people donate their hard earned cash to the Children’s
Society when they don’t know exactly who will benefit? Will it give the
money to the 360,000 children with a disability or the 43,000 runaways?
Maybe the money is for the 160,000 homeless families or for the two
million children living with asthma.
With these questions in mind, and with a view to increasing donations
made by the public and its existing support base of 400,000 donors, the
Children’s Society has adopted a more targeted approach. The new
strategy begins with the launch of an advertising campaign to raise
public awareness of the charity.
Terry Warburton, public affairs director, says: ‘There is a lot of
dismay within the charity that after more than a century we’re still
doing the same things. My first idea for an advertising brief was, ‘How
do we put ourselves out of business ?’
The problem of defining its function is one of public perception, says
Warburton. ‘There is actually a big difference between frontline child
protection charities like the NSPCC, residential charities like
Barnardo’s and a charity like our own. Our work is justice based.’
In other words, the Children’s Society, which helped force through a
provision on safe houses for runaways in the 1989 Children’s Act, sees
itself as a lobbyist for children’s rights and this is the message it
will bring to the public.
To achieve this, the charity has identified six ‘justice objectives’
which will be the heart of future policy-making. The objectives are that
children are entitled to a good start in life, to be protected, to be
treated fairly, to have enough income, to have somewhere to live, and to
be listened to.
With the framework in place, advertising agency Impact FCA began its
creative strategy by holding a debate with members of the public to
assess their views on charities. Joint creative director Ian Harding
says the exercise confirmed his theory that people found the notion of
helping ‘children’ almost too wide and intimidating to be practical.
It also revealed that the NSPCC is to children’s charities what Hoover
is to vacuum cleaners. ‘Certain charities slip off the tongue,’ says
Warburton, ‘while we have 50% to 60% prompted awareness among the
Having established that many adults were stumped by how to tackle
children’s issues, Impact FCA asked children what they thought were the
biggest problems facing them. More than 2000 children filled in
questionnaires which provided blank speech bubbles for them to write
down personal comments. Their views provide the backbone of the pounds
The national campaign kicked off with a two-week burst of posters
carrying the slogan ‘We just wanted you to know’. The ads featured a
child’s hand-written observation on matters of concern such as ‘An older
boy at school offered us drugs’, or ‘There’s not enough places where
it’s safe to play’. A similar four-week campaign in the press followed
the poster campaign.
But what makes this activity stand out from other charity campaigns is
the decision to play down the charity’s branding and to avoid direct
response contact numbers for most of the duration of the campaign.
Harding’s rationale is that ‘there is no quick-fix advertising solution
for a charity that is 100 years old. We don’t want to ease people’s
consciences by saying the problems can be solved with a few thousand
Warburton adds: ‘Instinctively, I don’t think we’re going to draw a lot
of money off the page unless our campaign coincides with a major
disaster. Our objective is to set society a challenge.’ In essence, the
Children’s Society campaign seeks to force a constructive dialogue
between adults and children.
Such a strategy makes it difficult to judge the campaign’s success, but
it is clear that the charity would like the public to link the urgency
of the social justice debate with its own brand-building objectives.
Warburton is researching the campaign’s impact but at this stage he can
only offer general impressions. ‘It did raise eyebrows and local
authorities and community groups expressed an interest,’ he says.
Harding admits that an awareness campaign which doesn’t demand
quantifiable results can be a let-off for an agency. ‘It is difficult to
judge awareness so we won’t know if the campaign is a success. But if it
persuaded one employer to raise a child’s hopes by answering their job
application, or a town-planner to reconsider proposals to bulldoze
through a playground, then it has worked,’ he says.
Meanwhile the Society will continue with its network of 90 projects
which deal with immediate issues such as drug abuse, child prostitution
Warburton’s next step is to convert the awareness campaign into
practical action. The charity will target specific justice objectives
and find ways to link up with the 1300 staff in the community. What the
campaign highlights is a burgeoning realisation that in a competitive
market-place, charities must do more than rattle tins to get a reaction,
even if that charity represents a massive 20% of the population.
‘People are getting sick of appeals,’ says Warburton. ‘We want them to
support this charity because they’re committed to it and will stay
committed through thick and thin.’