Why children’s charities need a rebrand

Unicef today became the latest children’s charity to launch a new brand identity, following NSPCC this week and the Children’s Society last month. Here, we look at the differences and similarities in each charity’s approach, and why so many organisations in the sector are looking to reinvent themselves…

Unicef today became the latest children’s charity to launch a new brand identity, following NSPCC this week and the Children’s Society last month. Here, we look at the differences and similarities in each charity’s approach, and why so many organisations in the sector are looking to reinvent themselves…

Unicef’s new positioning, devised by johnson banks, is centred around the phrase ‘For every child in danger’ and aims to better illustrate the reach and scale of the charity’s work. In a blog post on the project, creative director Michael Johnson says it was created in response to research which suggested that while people were aware of Unicef, they had little idea what the charity does.

“There was an overall lack of familiarity with the brand … many don’t even realise that it is a children’s charity. Unicef is actually the world’s largest children’s organisation and already ensures more of the world’s children are fed, vaccinated, educated and protected than any other,” he explains.

The new phrase is used alongside hard hitting statistics and urgent calls to action in ads promoting Unicef’s efforts to tackle FGM and stop child sex trafficking, and johnson banks says it will help illustrate “the millions of children facing violence, disease, hunger and the chaos of war and disaster”.

The studio has also developed a softer, alternative approach for ‘subtler campaigns’, centred around the idea of providing safety to every child, and launched safety pins for supporters:

Other changes include a new headline typeface, blue tinted imagery and a much stronger use of Unicef’s signature cyan; and johnson banks says the branding will allow the charity to “raise the profile of its work in a clear and consistent way, using a far stronger, more uncompromising and memorable identity than [it] had done before.”

The launch of the rebrand, which johnson banks worked on for over a year, follows a major overhaul of NSPCC’s visual identity, which was announced on Friday and carried out in-house. The charity’s ‘full stop’ branding has been replaced with a more colourful, approachable identity and a new strapline, ‘every childhood is worth fighting for’:

The Children’s Society also launched a new identity last month, designed by SomeOne, which replaced the organisation’s purple logo with a geometric black and white form, inspired by the frontispiece of a book (read our blog post on it here):

While all three identities are very different visually (although use some similar techniques), the reasons for their launch are the same: NSPCC, The Children’s Society and Unicef all say their re-positioning aims to tackle a lack of knowledge of the charity’s specific aims, policies and achievements.

NSPCC says while its full stop branding raised awareness of child abuse, “people are less clear about the work we’re doing to prevent it”, while Law told CR there was “no general consensus over what [The Children’s Society] stood for or did.” Unicef’s research revealed a high level of awareness of the Unicef name, but Johnson told us there was a “low level of knowledge” about its specific initiatives or day-to-day work.

Rebrands often come in waves, but it’s quite unusual to see three high profile charities within the same sector rebrand in the space of just a few weeks. So is it just a coincidence? Mark Tobin, creative director at NSPCC, says: “charities are always looking to refresh the way they engage with audiences – it’s a difficult climate for charities across the board, and I think it’s just encumbent on them to look for good ways to reconnect with people,” he adds.

Johnson, however, says it’s also indicative of their increasing awareness of the need to use the same branding and marketing techniques as successful private sector businesses.

“It’s only in the last few years that charities have really started to grasp the techniques that we have long been honing away from the charity sector – the kind of techniques you might bring over from blue chip clients,” he explains. “Of course, with blue chip companies, you don’t have to worry about the same emotional resonance or scale of emotions, so [the charity sector] is much more complex – but it’s still all about differentiation,” he adds.

As Johnson points out, the UK charity market is one of the most competitive in the world, meaning charities are under constant pressure to make their voice heard and differentiate themselves from competing organisations. Key to that is having a strong, clear message and communicating exactly what the charity does and how supporters’ money will be spent.

This has long been the case, but in an age of digital fundraising, it’s more important than ever. Charities using blogs and social media need to devise campaigns that will create long-running conversations with supporters beyond an immediate call for donations, which many existing identities and and communications toolkits don’t offer.

“A direct response or call to action [such as the full stop ‘cruelty to children must stop’] can be effective at raising money, but not creating long term strategic partnerships,” explains Tobin. “Full stop was incredibly successful at raising awareness of child abuse – but the conversation kind of ended at that point. Now, we want to take supporters on a longer journey, and tell them about the work we’re doing, creating a dialogue with them and showing how they can help make a difference [to children],” he adds.

Charities – and children’s charities in particular – also have to strike a difficult balance between urging people to donate and drawing attention to extremely complex and unsettling issues, while remaining approachable to vulnerable children and parents who might be seeking support.

Speaking about Save the Children’s use of photography in campaigns during the conflict in Gaza this summer, head of visual creative Jessica Crombie told CR that even in campaigns seeking urgent help, charities need to evoke empathy rather than horror.

“We’ve done studies in this and we find that with the really shocking images, people just switch off from them because it’s too much. What actually engages people is emotion,” she says.

In the past, children’s charity campaigns have generally used either a friendly, reassuring tone of voice – often supported visually by hand writing, warm colour palettes and images of happy, smiling children – or a more hard hitting approach combining stark colours, shocking statements and photos of children in distress.

In their identities for Unicef and The Children’s Society, however, johnson banks and SomeOne have developed a toolkit for both kinds of communications. Unicef’s ads raising awareness of child sex trafficking, FGM and the dangers children face in Syria use powerful statistics, calls to action and unsettling photographs, while its ‘subtler’ approach features happier, less shocking imagery (see For Every Bright Future, above).

The Children’s Society’s hard hitting campaigns feature a similar use of statistics, and bold black and white type, while posters for use in children’s centres combine softer imagery, warmer colours and empowering statements.

“Increasingly [with charity comms], we’ve found you have to have a volume control that can go from loud and urgent to soft and reflective,” adds Johnson. “It’s a really tricky one, as the temptation as a communicator is to go for the emotional jugular. That approach looks really impactful on a huge poster, but it doesn’t work so well for a small image on social media.”

With NSPCC’s new branding, Tobin says there was a need to move away from this hard hitting approach and talk positively about the solutions the charity offers, rather than just the problems it aims to tackle. The new strapline is considerably more upbeat than the old – with the same sense of inclusiveness as Unicef’s “For Every Child in Danger – and aims to better reflect the charity’s wide ranging work, instead of focusing on a single issue.

“The NSPCC supports families struggling with mental health and drug addictions, runs antenatal programmes, and helps mums and children recover from domestic abuse. But many people have no idea that this is the kind of work we carry out. And the people who the NSPCC wanted to help were reluctant to use services from what they perceived to be the ‘cruelty charity’. This is what the new brand addresses,” he says.

NSPCC’s black, white and green colour palette has also been expanded – new ads feature shades of pink, blue and yellow alongside crayon illustrations inspired by children’s imagination. It’s certainly more approachable – but is it impactful enough to compel people to donate?

“One of the key things we looked at in development was making sure the branding has the flexibility to create bolder, more urgent campaigns when needed – and we can use the visuals and imagery we’ ve created to do that,” adds Tobin.

Unsurprisingly, photography is a key focus in each of the new rebrands and is used to powerful effect: johnson banks has used a mixture of original and archive imagery, treated with a blue tint, for Unicef communications, while NSPCC worked with photographer Tom Hull to create a series of images reflecting the range of children and families it supports.

“A lot of our research suggested that people felt child abuse was something that happens to ‘other people’ – but what we know is that it can affect any family, from any background, so we’ve used real, credible images of children of various ages and backgrounds. It presents a scenario people might recognise as similar to their own child or children,” says Tobin. Most of NSPCC’s feature children looking happy, which Tobin says reinforces the idea that every child deserves a childhood, but he says some will be less upbeat.

When selecting imagery for Unicef, Johnson says there was a desire to avoid “generic images of the sector” and adds that the charity will be using more abstract shots and less conventional images in future. “Photography and film is an increasingly powerful way [to get a charity’s message across] – but if everyone uses the same images, it loses impact.

“Thirty years ago, after Band Aid, everyone was using very harrowing images of famine, so over the last decade, a lot of charities moved to warm and friendly pictures showing the positive work they’ve done – it became the new generic if you like. With Unicef, we need to show images of children in danger, but also hint at a sense of safety and security – and it needs to look different [from everyone else’s],” he adds.

Like any children’s charity, or indeed, any charity, Unicef, NSPCC and The Children’s Society face a difficult task when it comes to promoting their work. To command the attention of consumers who are bombared with ads and urges to donate on a daily basis, they need coherent, concise campaigns that are impactful and memorable without being too upsetting, and reassuring without downplaying the issues highlighted.

Today, a memorable logo and a strong call to action is no longer enough: charities have to tell engaging, uplifting stories about how and where donations are spent, all while providing an immediately recognisable message that sets them apart from others in the sector. Raising money has always been tough, but it’s near impossible without a strong, flexible identity that extends beyond a call for support.

“Full stop was fantastically effective at rallying support against child cruelty, and with any strong message you have to follow it through, but it perhaps means other messages aren’t amplified as loudly,” says Tobin. “People understand child abuse is a problem – it’s a cause they feel passionately about – so what we need to do now is say, here’s what you can help NSPCC do about it.”

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