Save the Children: Re-writing the Children in Conflict narrative

We used semiotics and cultural analysis to help Save the Children understand contemporary understanding of war and conflict and create a compelling new narrative for children caught up in it.

What was the issue?

Save the Children had carried out a number of studies on children in conflict and had identified a number of key insights, but they were struggling to pull them into a cogent narrative toolkit that would deliver winning communications territories.

What did we do?

At the beginning of the project we realised that the reality of war is not something the British public are familiar with. The predominant narratives of war that the public are exposed to come from two sources: news stories and fiction in TV and film.

News stories showed war as a fundamentally lost cause that felt overwhelming and distant and this was driving public ambivalence towards helping children because there were so few stories of hope.

In contrast, conflict in popular TV and film was narrated at a much more human level and in clear, relatable terms in its most engaging form tended to show conflict in clearer and more positive terms; heroes overcoming odds to regain their agency that brought out strength and compassion in people.

The other key insight was to shift the way Save the Children framed their role in representing public perceptions of children in conflict. At the time its campaigning and comms were almost interchangeable with news stories that presented war as an eternal and helpless cause.

 

We explained that Save the Children’s role was not to tell people the way the world was, but to change the world and this necessitated narratives that were closer to popular TV and film than news stories.

What were the outcomes?

As part of our ouput we also included an example of what a new narrative story could look like to bring it to life and move away from abstract recommendations.

 

This included key cues such as children being seen as narrators of their own stories and also addressing the audience directly by looking into the camera.

This output was used to develop the striking and impactful ‘I am the Future’ ad, the ‘See the Truth’ Campaign and helped to change government strategy around protecting children in conflict.

It also galvanised the team and gave them a clear direction in terms of what they needed to do to grow public support and strengthen campaigning.