UNICEF Turns to Snapchat to Advocate Awareness of Missing Childhoods in Nigeria

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has taken to ephemeral app Snapchat in order to raise awareness among Millennials about the Boko Haram conflict in Africa.

One year ago this week, militants from Boko Haram, an Islamic terrorist movement, abducted 276 schoolgirls in Chibok, a small village in northeastern Nigeria. To raise awareness as the story spread, celebrities like Michelle Obama and Angelina Jolie tweeted #BringBackOurGirls, a hashtag that trended globally with nearly 2.5 million tweets in a month. A year later, most of the girls are still missing. Additionally, hundreds of thousands more Nigerian children have been displaced by the country’s ongoing violence, while others have been forced into marriage, labor, and combat.

“I think with anything like this, it kind of fizzles out over time and that was a goal: how can we help it re-emerge in a different way?” says Hunter Harrison, senior director of brand strategy at Softway Solutions, the Houston digital agency that launched the campaign. “You think of something like the Ice Bucket Challenge and nobody’s talking about it anymore, but at one time, it was the hottest thing on the Internet. It’s really just about staying consistent and making people realize that just because people aren’t as vocal about tragedies doesn’t mean they change.”

UNICEF chose Snapchat both to reach a younger audience and to highlight the violence’s impact on children. The platform’s ephemeral messages are meant to represent the disappearing childhoods.

Snapchat influencers have been recreating drawings by children who fled Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon, and Chad. The pictures focus on what the kids miss most from home – for example, family, in the case of Rita, a 14-year-old Nigerian girl currently residing in a Chad refugee camp.


“A lot of the pictures were about school and pets and bikes, which are all really important things kids should not miss out on, but [Rita’s drawing] really hit me because it only showed a picture of her family,” says Shaun “Shonduras” McBride, a Utah snowboard sales rep who became the first Snapchat celebrity. “The fact that she put each of the names by the people, that really hit home. It wasn’t, ‘I miss family,’ it was, ‘I miss Tom, I miss Sarah.”

However, Snapchat poses some inherent difficulties as a marketing tool. The disappearing messages, while perfect for this particular campaign, force brands to be very diligent about consistently putting out new content.

Additionally, the platform doesn’t have much in the way of search, which requires users to know the exact username of the person they’re looking for. Partnering with people like Shonduras, who has hundreds of thousands of followers, helped UNICEF share its snaps with as many people as possible, both on Snapchat and on his other social channels.

“The platform is set up for storytelling and telling an engaging story: dramatic, humorous, scary, there are so many different ways to define engaging,” Harrison says. “But unless you have a really big following; it’s a struggle if you’re trying to get recognized on Snapchat without some kind of influencer engagement or a really good social media strategy.”

Beyond Snapchat, the cross-channel campaign lives on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, as well as Tumblr, where the humanitarian organization aggregates all the artwork.

Homepage image via Shutterstock.

Related reading