CHARITIES: When justice is child’s play

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

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

general public.’

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

500,000 campaign.

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

and crime.

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.’


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