Who: Vancouver-based non-profit Children of the Street, with agency Will.
What: “Dangerously cute,” a campaign alerting parents to the growing danger of predators attempting to exploit young children through online video games.
When & Where: The eight-week campaign is running throughout the Greater Vancouver area using a combination of video ads, OOH, social and direct mail. All of the ads drive people to the URL GameSafe.ca, which redirects to the Children of the Streets website.
Why: According to Public Safety Canada, child sexual exploitation has “drastically increased” as technology has advanced. The Canadian Centre for Child Protection’s Cybertip.ca hotline processed more than 1.7 million child sexual exploitation reports between 2014-19, and according to Children of the Street, Canada is second only to the U.S. in hosting child sexual abuse images online.
While parents have grown more vigilant about the safety risks of platforms like Facebook and Instagram, Children of the Street says that many fail to see the risks associated with online gaming. They often assume their child is playing with friends, and are unaware of in-game chat features that can be exploited by predators.
Reports have identified video games and online chats as “hunting grounds” for predators. Children in online game environments can often mistake predators for new friends as they bond over gameplay and become teammates working towards common gaming goals.
Predators will often gift children items like codes or in-game currency to build rapport and the expectation that kids owe them something in return. They will attempt to migrate children to messaging apps, where they will encourage them to meet in person, or attain personal information they can use for sexual extortion.
How: The campaign features a series of cute gaming characters whose names mimic online user names, such as such as SnugglePuff_74 ,TickleBot_23 and Flash_Kat75! Each character possesses typical videogame powers such as “lightning strikes,” “rocket jumps” and “thunder stomps,” before it’s revealed that they’re actually predators who possess far more sinister abilities, such as luring children to meet them in real life, or send them nude photos.
“We wanted the advertising to parallel the subversive bait and switch tactic used in gaming platforms by sexual predators,” said Will’s creative director Lisa Lebedovich. “These gaming characters seem cute, friendly and harmless on the surface but there is something sinister lurking beneath that isn’t immediately apparent.”
And we quote: “It’s surprisingly easy for people with ill-intentions to hide behind cute avatars and fake profiles to gain the trust and friendship of kids through online gaming platforms. This is often how the grooming process begins.” — Jen Graham, development and communications manager, Children of the