'There’s a fine line between hard-hitting and sensationalist' - Behind the Campaign with Store of Modern Childhood

Mark Perkins, executive creative director at W Communications, reveals the secrets behind this bold campaign for The Children’s Society.

'There’s a fine line between hard-hitting and sensationalist' - Behind the Campaign with Store of Modern Childhood

What was the campaign in a nutshell?

Stab vests for kids, bruise concealer, changing room mirrors of low-self-esteem and a social networking app called grooma. These were just some of the items on display at Store of Modern Childhood, the ‘back to school’ shop with a difference, which opened in London two days in August. It was created by W to amplify the Good Childhood report from The Children’s Society.

How did the idea come into being?

Every August The Children’s Society issues its annual Good Childhood Report to media. In 2019 it would highlight the lowest level of wellbeing in a decade. The children surveyed reflected a crisis in mental health, of increases in depression, anxiety and low self-esteem. We were tasked to be brave and shift the dial on how both TCS and any other children’s charity should address these topics.

Given the report was to be issued in the final week of August, we realised that ‘back to school’ was going to be utmost in the minds of parents and media.

That gave us the inspiration bring their anxieties, issues and hidden realities to life in a distorted retail environment – a physical manifestation of the report’s findings.

What ideas were rejected?

We’ll keep our powder dry on that as some of the initial ideas still have future merit, but SoMC was the single big idea we took to pitch.

Briefly describe the campaign planning and process

This was a truly collaborative campaign with the marketing team at TCS, who provided lots of input, ideas and insight to maximise the impact of the store to deliver a number of key messages. In addition to the darkness, we had to end with hope and light. Visitors walked into a separate area, labelled The Changing Room. This area celebrated the positive outcomes of work by TCS, including artwork and quotes from children whose lives had been transformed by the charity.

The W Studio team were critical to bringing the concept to life: they designed the branding and artwork for the store, as well as for all its products. The team also worked with photographer Seb Nevols – who offered his services pro-bono - to create a suite of ‘back to school’-style images and video for an integrated campaign.

The Store of Modern Childhood from The Children's Society on Vimeo.

We worked with event specialist XYZ to deliver the live production, including prop creation and planning the walk-though experience to maximum effect.

The Store of Modern Childhood opened for two days in London in August 2019, but the concept and items we created continue to be exhibited in different parts of the country by The Children’s Society.

What were the biggest challenges and how did you overcome them?

How does one present abuse, neglect, anxiety, violence and even topics like sexual exploitation to the public? Collectively we wanted to reframe the story away from victimhood and give children a voice - not a ‘child crying in corner’ cliché.

There’s a fine line between hard-hitting and veering into sensationalist, Brass Eye territory. We had to be authentic. Every item on display related specifically to statistics case studies TCS works with. We did question whether we were pushing it with the headline idea of ‘stab vests for kids’, until we discovered that children in inner cities were already buying adult stab vests online and wearing them to go to school.

How did you measure the results?

This wasn’t about fundraising; specifically [it was about] delivering media cut-through and public awareness for the charity and its work. Over 2,000 people visited the London store and TCS captured their reaction, which was overwhelmingly positive. They were also sufficiently disrupted.

The Store of Modern Childhood - The public react from The Children's Society on Vimeo.

Despite Boris Johnson deciding to prorogue parliament the same morning we went live, the report and the store were covered on Channel Four News, Sky News, BBC London, The Guardian, Daily Telegraph, Evening Standard, Mail Online, even The Church Times.

As mentioned, the concept has proven so successful it continues to be activated at scale, and delivering regional TV coverage, across the UK. Campaign named The Store of Modern Childhood as #2 in its 10 Best Live Experiences of 2019 above work by brands such Coca-Cola, Amazon and Ikea, so we definitely took The Children’s Society into new territory.

What's the biggest lesson you took away from the campaign?

When clients say they want to be brave and disruptive – and actually mean it – we can do work that goes beyond the boundaries of PR. Four weeks later, Banksy opened a pop-up shop in Croydon and stab vests were displayed as a modern lifestyle essential for edgy social commentary. We beat him to it. Sorry, Banksy.

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