With the opportunities for teachers to notice signs of child abuse significantly decreased during pandemic-related lockdowns, French nonprofit L'Enfant Bleu engaged potential victims of abuse via an undercover avatar on the popular video game Fortnite. The avatar used in-game communications to quickly create plans to get the children to safety. The effort allowed abuse victims to self-report without arousing the suspicion of their abusers or other adults, who were ignorant to the inner workings of the game.
During the first wave of COVID-19, French authorities noticed a decrease in domestic violence directed at children in France. Counterintuitively, this was not a positive indicator. The reduction only signified that abuse normally detected by teachers and other adults was no longer visible. L'Enfant Bleu, a nonprofit that provides resources and legal support for victims of child abuse, wanted to help.
The target audience was French children who were victims of domestic violence and unable to attend school due to confinement. The media was also targeted so that it could raise awareness of this problem. Finally, L'Enfant Bleu wanted to raise French authorities' awareness of the issue.
According to UNESCO, as more than 188 countries closed their educational centers at all levels during the pandemic, most countries experienced a decrease in child abuse hotline calls. France was no exception. While normally this would have been welcome news, specialists knew that the instances in which trouble might have been noticed by teachers and other educators had disappeared overnight.
L'Enfant Bleu wanted to find a way to reach children who were confined at home in a discrete way. Video games seemed like the perfect way to do so. Video games allowed children to express themselves and represented an area in which they already felt confident and at ease. Most importantly, it was an area not well understood by most parents.
L'Enfant Bleu chose the biggest game, one with more than 380 million players registered: Fortnite. This was the ideal game, not only because of its massive size, but also because 53 percent of its players were aged between 10 and 25. The brand inserted an undercover avatar that allowed young players to confide without arousing the suspicion of those abusing them.
The overall communications strategy had two phases. Phase one was more secretive, clandestinely targeted to children who might have been suffering abuse. Gamers and lifestyle influencers sent out Instagram stories, tweets, and YouTube videos and went live on Twitch to reach young fans and let them know about the avatar.
The second phase occurred once the Fortnite avatar was deactivated and sought to let the rest of the world know about the initiative. Once the avatar was offline, L'Enfant Bleu launched the PR campaign that involved some of the most popular French newspapers, TV networks, and radio stations.
This was the first time L'Enfant Bleu had had to deal with child abuse in the middle of a pandemic, so the approach had to be innovative. The undercover Fortnite avatar was the answer to an unprecedented situation in lockdowns that aggravated the problem of domestic violence.
Overall Campaign Execution:
The campaign kicked off with a working group that brought together French authorities in charge of child protection and representatives of L'Enfant Bleu. Once the idea was agreed upon, L'Enfant Bleu game developers got to work and created the character that would be young children's confidant on Fortnite. The character, who listened to children's experiences with abuse and provided resources to quickly get them to safety, remained online 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
During this first phase, L'Enfant Bleu partnered with two very famous French esports teams and lifestyle influencers. The esports teams used the power of their network to disseminate information about the initiative. Together, they reached more than 500,000 followers on their social media accounts.
The second phase was a massive PR initiative that was activated after the first month, once the campaign had ended. It was designed to let the world know about the initiative, in case it could inspire similar initiatives around the world, and to spread awareness of L'Enfant Bleu's work.
The success of this campaign resulted from the choice of the channel, which allowed L'Enfant Bleu to reach its target without the danger of parents or other adults finding out. The digital environment of a game like Fortnite allowed the organization to establish direct contact with children who otherwise would not have been reachable.
While the Fortnite avatar was online, L'Enfant Bleu received 1,200 friend requests from kids. Thirty percent of these requests were related to children in dangerous situations asking for urgent help.
The day L'Enfant Bleu launched phase two, it generated than 50 million PR impressions. The French minister was even interviewed on a major French radio station about the initiative.
For L'Enfant Bleu, the main KPIs were to generate awareness and make the issue top of mind. Both KPIs were achieved and more visibility was brought to the organization's mission. Undercover Avatar generated more than 700 million media impressions.
The effect of the campaign was so strong that the French government set up a specific task force involving gaming publishers, French justice officials, and French police to work on solutions that would turn video games into a new way to identify abused children. French police even mentioned that this campaign was recognized by their U.S. colleagues in the FBI.