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Were the Smurfs on an Ad for UNICEF?

UNICEF has consistently campaigned for child protection, especially during times of war. As part of UNICEF’s Belgium campaign to raise funds for ex-child soldiers in Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo, UNICEF used cartoons to target their adult audiences. 

In a 2005 fundraising UNICEF ad campaign for former child soldiers in Africa, Publicis, the campaign’s advertising agency, used smurfs in their commercial to shock their adult audience. The advertisement’s scenery begins in a cheerful and lighthearted atmosphere in the smurf village. Cut to 15 seconds later, and bombers start to drop bombs onto the smurfs, leaving only Baby Smurf alive. 

The 2005 UNICEF Smurf Commercial

The scenery starts in a light and joyous atmosphere, showcasing the fictional village of the smurfs, surrounded by forest animals and healthy trees and flowers. The scene continues with the smurfs playing music, eating, and having fun. 

Fifteen seconds into the 35-second commercial, warplanes bomb their village, wiping out most of the smurfs and utterly destroying their home. The last few seconds of the video show Baby Smurf crying, surrounded by lifeless bodies crushed by debris or killed by the bombs. The UNICEF commercial ends with the sentence, don’t let war destroy the universe of children

The horrific turn of events comes from a 2005 UNICEF ad campaign on Belgian television. Because of its disturbing and graphic scenes, the commercial only played after 9 in the afternoon to avoid children from seeing it. In a 2005 CBS News article, Julie Lamoureux, Publicis’ account director, delves into why they wanted to use smurfs for their commercial.

We see so many images that we don’t really react anymore. In 35 seconds, we wanted to show adults how awful war is by reaching them within their memories of childhood.

Julie Lamoureux

Publicis was the advertising agency behind the 2005 ad campaign for UNICEF Belgium. Since they targeted an adult audience, the usage of smurfs in the campaign appalled people as most attribute smurfs to their childhood. In addition, they aimed to portray the message that war can happen, even in the most innocent and unlikely of locations. (Source: CBS News

UNICEF’s Upsetting and Unconventional Method

Philippe Henon, UNICEF Belgium spokesman, states that UNICEF commonly utilizes real-life images of joyous and playing children, but they changed it to something more shocking. The commercial urges people to donate to UNICEF projects in Burundi, Sudan, and Congo in a rather unconventional way by using cartoons.

We get reactions from all over the place. People are shocked and want to know the reasons behind this cartoon image. We wanted to have a lasting effect on our campaign because we felt that in comparison to previous campaigns, the public is not easily motivated to do things for humanitarian causes and certainly not when it involved Africa or children in war.

Philippe Henon

Philippe Henon states that their method was effective as UNICEF received countless reactions, with many people logging on to UNICEF’s website. With that said, Henon assured that he would never use real-life war scenes and documentation. (Source: CBS News)

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