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The Spotlight on Still the Most Shocking Second

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The ad stands as the sequel to the charity’s 2014 Most Shocking Second a Day and they have enlisted the same actress to reprise her role as a child refugee, following her through the most shocking seconds of her day.

Having a worked with a number of charities including Mwezi, a charity co-founded by our chief executive James Goddard, and Make-A-Wish, we understand how difficult it can be to get people to really listen to the sometimes hard to swallow message you are trying to communicate.

JJ’s view


In light of the type of images we see in the press on a daily basis, images of this kind are simply not shocking to many anymore.
Scarlet Harter

Karen’s view

Save the Children certainly isn’t the first charity to use shock tactics in their appeals (think Barnardo’s Giving Children Back their Future campaign) and they certainly won’t be the last. But is it really surprising given that charities are under such pressure to justify any advertising spend? Vanilla ads simply don’t drive donors. But there must be a careful balance – ads need to be engagingly emotive, rather than so distressing that it turns viewers off. Shares, likes and comments are now also so vital in evaluating effectiveness, especially with the need to beat the rise in ad-blocking software and paid for views. The stories charities need to tell will continue to be as hard-hitting as ever, but the mode will have to become more subtle to ensure empathy and the ‘Most Shocking Second a Day’ certainly does just that.

John’s view

As the fifth anniversary of the Syrian crisis approaches, still so imbalanced and tragic, Save the Children’s ‘Most Shocking Second a Day’ campaign is repackaged with a new direct response TV ad. Following the success of the first launch in 2014 that reached over 50 million YouTube views, Save the Children is confident in testing a new marketing model – introducing the ad online before making an above the line investment.

Unlike the previous ad that left the audience with ‘Just because it isn’t happening here, doesn’t mean it isn’t happening’ the sequel ends with ‘It’s happening now. It’s happening here.’ Much more impact, and really raises the sense of urgency to help.

Would the impact be the same if we were to see the reality of a Syrian refugee and their lives? Surely much less fictitious. Ultimately, the aim of the ad is to increase donation levels, if not more than awareness. The donation performance wasn’t captured in the last ad but it would be interesting to see how much shock advertising can turn a reaction into a response.

Will the effectiveness of advertising on sites like YouTube encourage advertisers to shift their media budgets to the likes of YouTube? Matt Brittin, Google’s top-ranking European executive, is set to unveil a report analysing ad campaigns across eight countries, which shows that in 80% of cases YouTube ads were far more effective than TV ads in driving sales. YouTube is a great channel to raise awareness and really gain effective PR coverage.

Beth’s view

With this latest ad, Save the Children tests a new marketing model, launching the ad on social first to measure reaction before committing to the big spend with TV advertising.

It’s not a bad idea to launch this sort of ad on social, it’s short, it’s powerful, it’s topical and there’s a clear message. Additionally, it’s very quick and convenient for users to click through and donate after watching the ad.

The video ad launched over four social channels: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram. And alongside the hashtag #SaveChildRefugees, Save the Children encouraged social users to share the ad online. The charity received lots of feedback through comments on its social posts, which you wouldn’t typically get from a TV ad – one of the benefits of social is that you can very quickly find out what people think.

Of course, the ad was a talking point and had a huge snowball effect on social media – celebrities were sharing the ad and it was quickly picked up by the likes of Buzzfeed and The Independent. Was Save the Children trying to create a bit more of a buzz by going viral? Posting the ad on social first is very John Lewis Christmas Advert-esque and it has got people talking. But, the ad wouldn’t have gone viral if it wasn’t so brilliant. It’s emotive, it tells a story, it stops you in your tracks and makes you listen.

Scarlet’s view

The reception for this year’s ad has once again been overwhelming, with many social media commenters calling the ad a “must-watch.” Unusually for a charity ad of this nature, there has been little backlash criticizing the charity for using what many consider to be ‘shock tactics’. Unfortunately, this may be because, in light of the types of images we see in the press on daily basis, images of this kind are simply not shocking to many anymore. But there could well be another reason for the ad’s mostly positive reception.

According to prominent psychologist, Natalie Nahai, the public respond better to adverts that tell a story, she believes this allows the viewer to draw comparisons between their own life and those portrayed on-screen. Without a doubt, Save the Children has been successful in achieving exactly this, particularly as it has once again cast the same child actress to play “Lily”, a character the audience is already familiar with.

In line with most major modern-day advert launches, Save the Children chose to release the ad via YouTube and social media channels first. This approach is now becoming increasingly common and allows the ad to create a buzz on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, all before the ad has even hit our screens. And it has certainly created a buzz. Save the Children has been able to do what most adverts can only dream of: create an ad that is not shared for its gimmicky or star cameo, but because their message had chimed with its audience in exactly the way it was intended.

Rich’s view

I thought that the original video from Save the Children was excellent. The format is a fantastic vessel to tell the story in a succinct and impactful way. The pace is just right, building the impact, empathy and interest to maximise the impact at the end. The focus is completely on the child, Lily, and how she is dealing with the situation, which in itself is very relatable. Viewers can relate to Lily and her life at the start and can quickly comprehend how it could happen to them.

The other technique I like is how each shot is framed as a selfie. In an age where selfies are commonplace, the style makes you feel part of the story. This gives the feeling that you could be looking at snapchats from a friend, a Facetime call or watching a vlog makes the narrative of normal to war even stronger. This is all especially true in the context of social media, where this ad was shown, when many people’s feeds will be full of selfies, pictures of people’s children and possibly even sad-faced emoji responses.

The second video follows the same format as before. The production value is just as high and the story is compelling and up-to-date. It works as a standalone narrative but also raises interest in the first video – for all who missed it first time around.

My problem is that the impact of this second video isn’t as high for me. The first advert was so strong (and deserving of the 53.5 million YouTube views) that this was always going to struggle to live up to that – the difficult second album effect. The contrast from beginning to end is not so stark in this second narrative and so it is harder to empathise with the character from the beginning. A great part of the first film was that it was highlighting how this could happen to you, and going from normal life that we can all recognise to some of the horrors of what is happening in Syria was very real.

Overall, I think this was a brilliant campaign that was best first time around. For the follow up, I think they should have been as bold as they were before and pushed on with a new style. This could have taken the form of a bold new medium, offering a filter for selfies, such as on snapchat, but with a mind to keep it appropriate. That would allow everyone to be part of the story again and share this important message with their friends and family – crowdsourcing the awareness and distribution.

Social first?

Save the Children hasn’t only succeeded here in getting people to listen and donate, but also in proving the strengths of social media in marketing. Advertising is evolving and, with it, so too are the ways in which we deliver campaigns. As we continue to focus on improving ROI and delivering the best results for our clients’ budgets, methods such as these used by charities like Save the Children can only serve to further inform and inspire our processes.

What do you think of the ad? Share your thoughts with us on Twitter.

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Update: Since this article has been published we have been asked for comment from our creative team. 

Dave’s view

Think I need to watch more YouTube and TV as these two films had escaped my radar.

On the plus side, I get the ‘Box set experience’ of being able to run them one after another.

Flipping the war torn horrors experience is a great piece of strategic and creative thinking.

The films certainly demand that you watch them but personally I think they are a little over length and even over engaging. (In other words, I forget what it is the film is wanting me to do – a bit too ‘Hollywood’ for my liking.)

If I contrast these films with the ‘Save the Children’ Africa cut. I feel I get a much more emotive experience with the authenticity of ‘real’ suffering. Which means I’m more likely to put my hand in my pocket.

Not as creative maybe but nearer to the actual truth in every sense.

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