UNICEF Harnesses Adults-Only Episode of The Smurfs to Motivate Giving

Picture this scene: Birds flying, rabbits hopping, cute Smurfs singing and dancing. Suddenly a group of warplanes descends and starts bombing. As the Smurfs run for their lives,their village goes up in flames. When the bombs have stopped and dead Smurfs are scattered like waste all over the ground, a scorched and tattered Baby Smurf sits alone, crying.

UNICEF aired this 30-second spot in Belgium this fall as part of its campaign to raise money to support the rehabilitation of child soldiers in Sudan, Burundi and Congo. As reported in the New York Times, the straegy of using cartoon characters, rather actual children, was calculated not to lessen the horror but to amplify it.  According to UNICEF Belgium, people are no longer surprised, moved or very responsive to traditional images of children in despair, especially from African countries. 

So, in order to convey the horror of war to its target audience (Belgians 30-45), UNICEF Belgium decided to provoke their childhood memories with images related to the idea of a happy childhood." As you can imagine, the spot has generated siginificant controversy. But UNICEF Belgium responds that they’ve also received a lot of positive reaction, and a huge upsurge in donations.

Is this the shock value we need to use to jolt audiences out of their complancency? I’ve written frequently about the need to do something different. And UNICEF Belgium sure did.
Another interesting point is their very targeted tactic, deciding on the cartoon characters most likely to evoke the childhoods of their target audience.

Cartoon empathy anyone?

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Nancy Schwartz on December 19, 2005 in Crisis Communications, Nonprofit Communications, Unique Approaches | 0 comments
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