The Spot: Pain Beyond Words

Children hint at abuse, in their own inimitable language, in this powerful PSA for Britain's NSPCC

IDEA: Britain's National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children had a pressing issue: People were waiting months, even years, to report suspected child abuse. This is partly because kids are notoriously unreliable narrators—indeed, they say the darnedest things. It can be difficult telling what's real and what's not. London agency Inferno thought this problem could actually be a solution—or the framework for one—if people could be taught simply to err on the side of credulity. "Is it just 'the shit kids say'? Or should we be more vigilant toward the children around us and listen to what they might really be trying to tell us through the things they say and the way they play?" said Tim Palmer, Inferno's digital creative director. Playing off the popular "Shit people say" Internet meme, the agency came up with "The $#*! Kids Say," a powerful 90-second PSA in which young children, as they play, say the craziest things—first goofy, innocent lines, then darker ones.

COPYWRITING: Statements like "I was 6 on the 50th of November" and "All pigs are pink, even boy pigs" soon give way to more troubling utterances, like "Daddy banged my eyes on the floor" and "Have another vodka, Mummy, you like it." The idea was to draw people in with cute and funny moments and then make the sobering appeal. "If you don't engage people in the first 10 seconds, they are off to look at dogs with funny haircuts," said Palmer. Most of the lines were "sourced" rather than written—the writers used things their own kids had said, then asked NSPCC caseworkers about sinister things they had heard or would sound alarm bells for them.

"The script was changing daily … influenced by what kids said in casting, and even what they said in front of the camera on the shoot," said Palmer. The agency added subtitles to the final film because some of the kids were hard to understand. On-screen text at the end reads: "Over half the people who contact the NSPCC have been worried about a child for more than a month. It could be nothing but it could be something. If you're worried and need advice, don't wait until you're certain." The NSPCC hotline number and logo appear, with the tagline: "Cruelty to children must stop. Full stop."

ART DIRECTION/FILMING: Director Amanda Boyle filmed the spot in two days in Wanstead, North London, "somewhere that couldn't be identified as too rural, too urban, too southern U.K. or too northern U.K. so as not to upset the sensibilities of people from anywhere in particular," said Palmer. The camera is handheld, which lends a realism to the scenes. "Honesty was a theme from concept to script to casting to dialogue to filming," said Palmer. "It needed to feel truthful."

TALENT: None of the kids were actors or media trained, as the agency felt that would have changed their delivery. "We went to schools, after-school clubs and play groups and saw lots and lots of kids before we narrowed it down to 12," said Palmer.

SOUND: The agency tried putting an ambient orchestral score behind the dialogue. "We felt that it set the viewer up for what was coming next," said Palmer. "The ambiguity in the middle section was lost, and the power at the end was preempted. We preferred it without music in the end."

MEDIA: The spot is running online only, with no TV buy—unusual for the NSPCC. The campaign is supported by a social-media effort that asks people to donate status updates. An NSPCC app posts one message a day for a week on the user's Facebook wall, e.g., "If you nearly call us, we can nearly stop child abuse. Don't wait until you're certain."



Client: NSPCC

Agency: Inferno, London

Creative Team: Al Young / Tim Palmer

TV Producer: Sam Dowling

Film Prod Co: Academy Films

Director: Amanda Boyle

Producer: Noreen Khan

Director of Photography: George Steel

Post-Production House: MPC

Editing House: Trim

Editor: Julia Knight

Audio House: 750MPH