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Project Literacy Asks People to “Give their Word” to Break the Cycle of Illiteracy

Press Release - London, 13 March 2017

LONDON, March 13, 2017 – In 2016 Project Literacy’s “Alphabet of Illiteracy” campaign, created by FCB Inferno for Pearson, the world’s learning company and the founding partner of Project Literacy, raised awareness of the shocking impact of illiteracy on the world as the root cause of many of the biggest issues facing the human race. The Cannes Health Lions Grand Prix–winning campaign was hugely successful, exceeding all benchmarks for similar campaigns and resulting in Pearson being invited to contribute to the UNESCO Global Alliance for Literacy on behalf of the campaign partners.

The 2017 campaign focuses on the problem of “intergenerational illiteracy” – if a parent is unable to read, it is likely to be passed on to the next generation.  The “First Words” campaign brings to life the real struggle faced by adults learning to read and write for the first time, juxtaposed against children reading their first words, and shows the transformative effect improved literacy can have on their lives.

We see people like Donna—who is learning to read so she won’t be scared to shop in the supermarket for her daughter, who has a peanut allergy—and Andre, who is learning to read because he wants to have the confidence to read with his granddaughter.

The chosen track, “Human,” by Rag’n’Bone Man, adds poignancy to the story with powerful lyrics that are almost tailor-made to acknowledge the stigma faced by illiterate adults.

The new campaign, created once again by FCB Inferno in collaboration with the core Project Literacy team at Pearson, builds on the momentum created in 2016. It highlights how we can break the intergenerational cycle of illiteracy by empowering adults learning to read and write, so they can encourage literacy in future generations. The objective of the campaign is to continue to drive awareness of illiteracy as a hidden curse, as well as driving donations and support for Project Literacy’s 99 partners, most of which are delivering literacy programs on the ground. To date, Project Literacy has helped 700,000 people on their journey to literacy.

The suite of 30-, 60- and 90-second spots will be seeded in the U.S. and UK by The Village Communications for a month, across channels that include Facebook, YouTube, BrightRoll and Virool.

The hero film will premiere at the SXSW Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas, where Project Literacy hosted a live fundraising Spelling Bee, along with a panel discussion, which was centered on new research that suggests smartphones will surpass human literacy levels within 10 years. These analog events in a digital space attempt to cut through the technological noise to make an impact.

An interactive Web page also hosts the stories of the film’s cast, along with interviews that bring to light the barriers they faced in their lives, and how learning to read and write is changing their lives for the better.

Owen Lee, Chief Creative Officer at FCB Inferno, says, “Last year, the ‘Alphabet of Illiteracy’ was deliberately provocative—it was about making people realize the devastating effects of illiteracy on the world. This year we needed to move the conversation on. Most of us automatically learn to read and write as a child, but we wanted to show the amazing courage it takes for adults to learn to read, in order to break the cycle of illiteracy. By using real people, with real stories, we set out to create a new emotional response; rather than pity or injustice, we wanted people to feel inspiration and awe.”

Emilie Colker, Vice President of Global Campaigns at Pearson and Campaign Director for Project Literacy, says, “Literacy rates have stalled since 2000, and this is contributing to generation after generation being left behind and locked into a vicious cycle of illiteracy, which prevents them from progressing in their lives. In the U.S., one in four children grows up without learning how to read, and in England, the generation approaching retirement is more literate than the youngest adults, and research shows that poor literacy underpins many other issues in our society, from gender inequality to homelessness and crime. This year, we’re moving away from shocking people into paying attention, and I believe we’ve found a powerfully creative approach to storytelling that will get people to prioritize literacy as a cause and accelerate the rate of change by investing in the organizations making a difference on the ground. The moving stories of the newly literate adults featured in the ‘Give Your Word’ campaign are taking the plight to eradicate illiteracy beyond their own homes and into those of others.”

About FCB Inferno

FCB Inferno is the London agency of global advertising network FCB. The network dates back to 1873, and now has more than 8,000 employees in 109 operations in 80 countries with more than 200 employees at FCB Inferno.

The agency is fully integrated, delivering all advertising services, such as TV, Retail, Social Media and Outdoor, under one roof. FCB Inferno’s clients span industry sectors and currently include BMW, NIVEA, Microsoft and Oreo. In 2015, FCB Inferno was one of the most awarded UK agencies, for the Sport England campaign “This Girl Can,” developed to encourage women and girls to take part in more sports.

Learn more at and on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @FCBinferno.

About FCB
FCB (Foote, Cone & Belding) is a global, fully integrated marketing communications company with a heritage of creativity and success dating from 1873. Based on a deeply developed understanding of diversified local markets and global cultures, FCB focuses on creating “Never Finished” campaign ideas for clients that reflect a deep understanding of the brand’s past, a respect for the present and an anticipation of the future potential. With more than 8,000 people in 109 operations in 80 countries, the company is part of the Interpublic Group of Companies (NYSE: IPG). Learn more at and follow us on Twitter and Instagram (@FCBglobal) and Facebook (FCB Global).