Opinion

Is the best way to raise awareness of stranger danger to scare the hell out of parents with this video?

Kidproof SEA adI’m not a parent. I would like to be one some day, if anyone is mad enough to have one with me. But after watching a video for the children’s safety charity Kidproof Southeast Asia, I’m not sure I could ever face the fear of losing one.

This film is one of the most disturbing things I have seen in some time. And I have to question whether it had to be quite so shocking to be effective.

The film, created by TBWA Kuala Lumpur, targets parents in Malaysia, warning them of the dangers of leaving their children unattended.

It begins by informing the viewer of the issue of child abductions in Malaysia – a widely reported, and very real problem.

We then move on to a stunt, not dissimilar in concept to Ogilvy Bangkok’s ‘Smoking kid’ campaign for the Thai Department of Health, involving a man in a shopping mall who wanders around looking for children left on their own.

Once he finds one, he hands them a lollipop, says something to them, and walks away. The lollipop has a message attached to it, which the kid gives to their parents. The note has a link to the Facebook group Kid proof safety Southeast Asia.

If you haven’t seen this video before, be warned. It doesn’t make for easy viewing.

There is no doubting its punch. Or that any piece of communication that makes children safer is a good thing. But I have a problems with this film for a number of reasons.

First, the intro. Was it necessary to show a dead baby being fished out of a waterway or a woman who collapses with grief? The statistic of three children going missing in Malaysia every day made the point, which has been well made by the Malaysian press (and the Singaporean media, which loves a dark story about Malaysia). Would imagery that harrowing make the editor’s cut of a TV news bulletin on kidnapping, without warning the viewer first?

Second, is it right is it to use such young, presumably unwitting non-actors in a film like this?

Third, the execution. Presuming the film is not staged using actors, what if the man in the shopping mall handing out lollies had been caught by one of the parents? Would they believe him when he said it was part of a stunt, or had they kicked him in the balls and had him arrested before he’d had a chance to explain?

But the main problem I have is intention to scare the hell out of parents as a solution to the problem. As if most aren’t worried enough as it is that the unthinkable could happen, without turning them into paranoid wrecks.

Paranoid parents usually mean scared kids. And I’m told (by a parent, who’s also an agency planner) that scared kids make for more vulnerable targets, since they are no longer able to distinguish between what is merely strange and what could be dangerous. Because they’re scared of everything and everyone.

What the video does do – very well – is get parents thinking. But I’m not convinced that terrifying them without offering a solution is the right approach.

Stunts like this do not always work as intended…

Robin Hicks

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