Turn on the Subtitles

Creative direction, brand design, campaign design 

The Stationers' Livery Company's Innovation Excellence Awards: 'Communications including marketing 2021' Winner
Here’s a scarily big problem: COVID-19 has meant that millions of children have actually gone backwards when it comes to their literacy. Even before COVID, 28% of children left school with an insufficient level of literacy. That number rises to 45% for the poorest families. If a child leaves school with a low level of literacy they are 3x more likely to be incarcerated. They are 3x more likely to be hospitalised and they are 3x more likely to die young.

But there is an easy solution. Turning on the subtitles can double the chances of a child becoming good at reading. In a study of 2,350 children, 34% became good readers with schooling alone. But when exposed to 30 minutes a week of subtitled film songs, that proportion more than doubled to 70%. And that’s just one of many worldwide studies into the suggested effects of subtitles on children’s literacy.

Taking on the role of the creative director for the project, I worked with Turn On The Subtitles to help shape their message and strategy. When creating the brand’s visual identity, we knew we had to create something that could fit within the accepted world of educational communication. But to bring character that truly reflected the game changing nature of the campaign, we knew it would have to stand out. Based on subtitles themselves, we wanted to ensure that anyone seeing standardised TV closed captions would be reminded of the campaign. It also means that whenever the campaign is mentioned on broadcast with the titles on, the identity would also appear similar.

Knowing that a range of design and educational partners would be using the brand, implementing it over websites and content beyond our control, we had to ensure that it remained simple, but highly flexible. We developed a modular brand identity, based predominantly around text and an accompanying library of pictographs, which are inspired by Teletext, TV remote buttons, and other related television paraphernalia, to bring life into the brand and emphasise key points.

The campaign was widely reported, across BBC Radio 4’s Today, Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine Show, World Service World Business Report, Newsround, ITV Evening News, The Telegraph, Times and Daily Mail, whilst Stephen Fry explaining the benefits of same language subtitles received over 103,000 views on Youtube alone. With zero budget spent on paid media, the campaign has relied entirely on earned media, generating 36.1m impressions on Twitter alone within its first week.