ICYMI: Finnish charity Fragile Childhood's "Monsters" campaign illustrates the brutal reality of how children see alcoholic parents

ICYMI: Finnish charity Fragile Childhood's "Monsters" campaign illustrates the brutal reality of how children see alcoholic parents

The Background

As part of an ongoing journey deep into the archives to find work that you may have missed, we go to Finland and a deeply unsettling campaign that bagged a heap of awards back in 2013.

To set the context, this is a properly serious one by Fragile Childhood. A foundation based Helsinki that seeks to support children suffering from the effect of alcoholic parents.

The mission is to tackle a problem that sadly many countries face but is something Finland has battled in particular due to the lack of discussion about something deemed a deeply private and personal issue.

Research, commissioned in 2011 by Fragile Childhood among 12-18-year-olds, found that although, on the surface, everything seems functional, the passive harm of alcoholism in parents has a very real psychological effect on the lives of their kids. 

One in four felt that their parents' drinking caused damage, with many feeling ashamed, disgusted and scared about their parents' alcohol use.

One foster home worker, Sar Airas, from the Finish city of Lappeenranta was quoted, as part of the research, describing the drinking culture in Finland as having "long been considered people's private affair - none of anyone's business. But when a child is born into a family with a problem, there are social hazards for everyone".

You see the problem at hand.

The Big Idea

So, in 2012 Fragile Childhood took it upon themselves to create an impactful above the line campaign. 

Something that would both shed light on an invisible section of society and start a conversation that should, but wasn't, happening.

The need was very real, and the response had to change behaviour. 

Whatever they did, they'd be challenging a deep cultural norm viewed as inherent in the lives of Fins.

Quite the task.

What They Did

Commissioning HAVAS in Helsinki to tackle the issue, the team turned out a near-masterpiece of a campaign. 

Boiling the problem down to the very core concept of childhood fear, and the hidden enemy that only they could see, but society could not. 

The result was 'Monsters'. 

A genuinely haunting 60-second ad that added an unnerving dose of the surreal to the gritty everyday lives of Finnish kids.

Cinematic in style and with a tone reminiscent of classic horror, a series of anxious children stare off-screen at a haunting presence make their attempt to get through a typical day something of a struggle. 

Quickly revealed as a variety of deeply sinister looking monsters straight from the pages of a Stephen King novel – the music builds, and crescendos as creepy clowns, a grim reaper, zombies and twisted fairy-tale rabbit reveal themselves to be a parent figure that only the kids can see. 

Playing out the sheer horror of the situation on one small boy's face, who having just been strapped into the backseat of a family car by a faceless masked assailant, looked to the camera with eyes silently screaming for help.

Before presenting a question over the top of the scene.

"How do our children see us when we've been drinking?".

Leaving viewers uneasy and with a fade to black style end board directing people to 'speak out' by sharing their anonymous thoughts on the Fragile Childhood Facebook page.  

The Results

Materially the campaign generated a great deal of noise when it launched on Finnish TV in September 2012. 

But the momentum grew exponentially when it gathered global attention having migrated the content to Fragile Childhood's YouTube channel.

Three million views in the initial few weeks and months and thousands of media articles chewing over the content message across multiple countries quickly followed, including TV channels showing the disquieting on the likes of Euronews and CNN.

The Review

However, outside of the material media gains, the real testament to the success of Monsters is in the conversation it started in Finland. But more so the resonance it had beyond the countries borders.

The elephant in the room was now under the spotlight and couldn't be ignored. 

People were talking. Talking about a strange advert from Scandinavia sure, but also about the effects of parental alcoholism on their kids. 

Commenting at the time, Fragile Childhood's activity project coordinator described the global attention as "showing that the problem affects children and families in countries with different alcohol cultures".

The campaign took something that was, in many eyes, a cultural phenomenon and tapped into something far bigger. Giving a short 60-second piece of content genuine universal resonance. A conversation that was now being discussed across the world.

In Hindsight

Watching the ad, even now, it still sends chills down your spine. You can't help but take notice. 

It's been machine-tooled to perfectly play on the most primitive fears and vulnerabilities we have all felt at some point in our lives. 

In my opinion, Monsters is pretty much a perfect piece of work.

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