Unicef’s new film featuring David Beckham and his tattoos uniquely highlights child abuse and promotes the organization’s campaign to combat it. Beckham is not only a well-known soccer star, he’s also a Unicef goodwill Ambassador. Although his celebrity status may draw people to the video, the attention he would normally receive is deflected to the message he physically carries about the scars left on children who are victims of violence. In the film Beckham sits silent and still as his tattoos become animated while sounds of cries and sinister music play. Most of the colors in the film are black and grey reinforcing the somber message in this video. Beckham only speaks for a few seconds at the end with a forceful voice. He says, “Violence against children marks them forever. It’s wrong. End it.”
What stands out most about the film isn’t Beckham’s presence or the horrific imagery of animated children hurt, it’s the way these features come together to push the point of Unicef’s campaign, which is to stop violence against children. At the end of the video, there is a call to action, which people can answer by using the hash tag #ENDviolence , by visiting unicef.org/endviolence, and by sharing the video.
It’s clear that the video aims to trigger people’s emotions, but it also aims to change people’s thoughts on violence against children. Some of the animated characters in the film show violence between children and verbal abuse, which some people prior to watching the video may overlook. The way Unicef framed the stories of violence against children in this film seems profound. Although the video is short, it may leave a lasting impression on its viewers.
Also worth noting is the way Unicef frames Beckham, he is a vessel for the campaign not the driver of it. While other organizations might have video ads featuring a celebrity talking about issues (Jennifer Aniston’s St. Jude’s commercial), Unicef does not use Beckham as the reason people should care about its campaign. His body, which is usually sexualized and idolized, becomes a canvas and the significance of his tattoos is redefined as vivid examples of what real children go through, not body art or decoration.
In the book Communication Power by Manuel Castell, he asserts, “Alternative projects and values put forward by the social actors aiming to reprogram society must also go through the communication networks to transform consciousness and views in people’s minds in order to challenge the powers that be” (Castells, 2009, p53).
Castell’s quote captures what this film does. The alternative value put forward by this film is to pay attention to the messages people carry not the people carrying them. As a character living in the world full of tabloids and red carpets, Beckham has humbled himself to guide those who know him to issues that are more important like violence against children. Maybe after watching the film people will think twice when they see someone screaming at a child or when they see Beckham on the cover they’ll think about this video and the message it sent. This video is a chance to “reprogram society” and although when people see it they may consciously focus on Beckham and his physical features, subconsciously they may associate him with his stance against child abuse and support the stance too.
To further explain the potential impact this video might have on viewers, one can turn to Castell again. In Communication Power he states, “…When emotional mechanisms are triggered in the brain’s surveillance system, higher-level decision capacities are activated, leading to more attention to information and a more active information search. That is why deliberate frame is typically based on the arousal of emotions” (Castells, 2009, p156). The way that Unicef aims to stir emotions in this video seems strategic and more challenging than the routes other organizations addressing similar issues have gone. Unicef could have featured a child telling a story of violence or with bruises, but even without the use of real children the message film delivers is raw. The fact that the message about violence against children in this film isn’t theatrically done might trigger people’s emotions on a deeper level since they may have been desensitized to images of violence when it is prominent in the movies and ads. Once viewers get roped in to use the hash tag or visit the Unicef website, they’ll learn more about the realities of violence against children.
This film reinforces the importance of framing in regards to storytelling. Even though people are constantly overwhelmed by messages and adverts in their daily lives, it’s refreshing when an organization can reframe a social issue or how the deliver information about that issue.
Castells, M. (2009) Communication Power. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.