Striking Campaign About the ABCs of Illiteracy Shows How It Fuels Extremism and Suffering

A deceptively bright look at dark topics

Despite rapid advances in technology and medicine, nearly 17 percent of the world's adult population (totaling 775 million people) remains completely illiterate. In certain parts of the world, as many as nine out of 10 women can't read.

Top educational publisher Pearson wants to help reverse this troubling trend and its many unfortunate side effects, so the company turned to London's FCB Inferno and model/actress/activist Lily Cole to launch "Project Literacy."

The agency created the following animated film with the help of famed U.K. sculptor Wilfrid Wood.

"If people are asked to name global problems, illiteracy doesn't even make it into the Top 10, even though it's proven to fuel eight or nine of the top 10," says FCB Inferno senior copywriter Martin McAllister. "In order to make Project Literacy a success over the next five years, first we needed people to understand the real impact of illiteracy and why they have to help us fight it."

Pearson, which came about in 1998 when parent company Pearson LLC purchased the educational division of Simon & Schuster, is solely dedicated to producing educational materials for both students and adults around the world.

They've used all available resources to promote the work. This week, Cole addressed Great Britain's Houses of Parliament, telling the 650 members: "People aren't directly dying or overtly suffering of illiteracy. As far as global issues go, it may feel a little vanilla."

This campaign aims to convince people in the U.K. and around the world that illiteracy is, in fact, an urgent global matter. And yes, an inability to read can be tied to a greater propensity toward drug addiction, poverty and sex trafficking.

"There's data linking every issue in the alphabet with illiteracy," McAllister said. "We created the film with the knowledge some of the links may challenge people's credulity, but then through social media and with a much more in-depth experience through the website, hoped that we could move people's understanding on. We were really strict with only accepting studies which were less than 10 years old and academically validated."

The deceptively wide-eyed character of the film only places greater emphasis on the gravity of the situation and the fact that life in the modern world can be even more challenging if one doesn't learn to read as a young child.

"The innocent tone works to bring together the feeling of learning the alphabet for the first time with the harsh realities of illiteracy," McAllister said. "We were really lucky to work with Wilfrid Wood, the sculptor, as his work naturally brings together naivety and more grown-up themes."


Agency:FCB Inferno London

Chief Creative Officer: Owen Lee

Client: Pearson

Senior Art Director: Julia Ferrier

Senior Copywriter: Martin McAllister

Head of Strategy: Chris Baker

Senior Strategist: Nic Willison

Business Director: Tom Kingham

Account Director: Helena Georghiou

Senior Account Manager: Olivia Pearson

Account Manager: Charlie Griffith

Producer: Charlotte McConnell

Producer: Kate Grenfell

Social Media Manager: Laura Visick

Production Company: 1stAveMachine

Designer/Sculptor: Wilfrid Wood

Animation: Red Knuckles

Producer: Claire Plaskow

Executive Producer: Isabella Parish

Senior Interactive Designer: Nick Vassou

Interactive Producer: Kit Peebles

Build: Mobile Bakery

Seeding: Village Communications