Unicef has an ambitious plan to use advertising to change world
attitudes to children - and it sounds tantalising. First, of course, the
money. Officials of the UN-funded organisation for children are talking
budgets as high as dollars 200 million, a comfortable prize even if
spread over several years. Then there’s the worthy factor: the chance
for late nights and gruelling journeys not just for money - but to fight
for a better deal for children everywhere.
But to the critical eye there’s more than a couple of question marks
hanging over the scheme the New York-based Unicef officials were touting
around London last week. Unicef has seen the sea-change in attitudes
towards environmental problems in recent years.
Global warming and its associated problems was once the province of
tree-huggers and boffins, but is now an everyday topic of
Unicef wants to do the same for children’s issues. It wants to galvanise
not only its traditional audience of government leaders, but also other
key sectors of society, from local charities to the boardroom. And it
wants to do this all around the world.
Naturally they’d be talking big multi-million-pound budgets for this:
they’d have to. But when push comes to shove, will those budgets really
be there? Funding would appear to rely on Unicef’s ability to unite all
interested charities, companies, governments and universities, and then
persuade them to switch their financial might from their own schemes
towards Unicef and its grand plan. A hard enough task for a squeaky
clean charity that has never put a foot wrong. But for a
non-governmental organisation with its own funding problems and a
history of political squabbles?
According to Corinne Woods, head of communications on the initiative,
Unicef aims to focus attention on children’s issues in the run-up to a
UN Special Assembly on the subject scheduled for the year 2001. The
assembly will review progress on the promises made at the last
children’s summit in 1990, and, she hopes, also do much more. ’We want
to effect a transformation in the way people see children,’ she says.
’It’s a very bold and ambitious idea.’
Phase one, to be completed by the spring, is to ’distill the essence’ of
children’s issues around the world into one key umbrella theme or
This will be the platform on which phase two - getting all interested
bodies fully behind the initiative and devising a communications
strategy - will be based.
Quite how much of this will be advertising is far from clear. It is also
not entirely clear why the agency search is being conducted in the UK
rather than near Unicef’s headquarters in New York. Is Unicef merely
flexing its international credentials or are there other, more
complicated reasons for decamping from its own doorstep?
Unicef is looking for a truly international agency, according to Woods,
one with true breadth of vision. Cynics might add that it needs to be
fired by optimism too.