Literacy Campaign Makes Appeal Across Media

TORONTO — ABC Canada Literacy Foundation has taken a new tack in its latest ad campaign, launched this month in national newspapers and magazines.

In the past, the 10-year-old charitable organization, which focuses on upgrading the reading and writing skills of Canadians who are functionally illiterate, has directed its ad messages at the people it is trying to help.

But Christine Featherstone, ABC Canada's executive director, said the goal this time is to encourage Canadians at large to learn more about adult literacy issues and help provide solutions.

“We're really trying to target at the general public, which doesn't see literacy as a social condition and doesn't care,” Featherstone said.

The campaign, created by Toronto ad agency Taxi Advertising & Design, features the tag line “When You Struggle to Read and Write, Words Can't Describe it.”

Three executions depict a piece of foolscap paper containing images of either a maze, brick wall or prison bars. The visuals are intended to reflect the sense of powerlessness that illiterate adults feel when they attempt to communicate using the written word.

The campaign also includes smaller filler ads that feature compelling statistics associated with the literacy issue, such as that 25 percent of adult Canadians have problems reading a bus schedule or that 17 percent have problems making simple calculations on a bank deposit slip.

Featherstone said the strategy behind the print ads is to capture attention, and ultimately to support individuals — through a Web address,, and a toll-free number — in their self-education efforts.

Among other things, the Web site supplies literacy-related statistics and research and explains how Canadians can contribute by donating time or money to local literacy programs. It also offers practical advice on how to promote better reading skills among children.

Although the campaign does not make a direct call-to-action, such as a request for donations or political action, it supports the foundation's more general mission of moving adult literacy onto the public agenda.

“It's such an outrageously underfunded problem right across the country,” Featherstone said. “In some cases, people even have to pay for literacy courses.”

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