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Special Project

Special Project
From the 2nd Annual Shorty Social Good Awards

Project Literacy – First Words

Finalist in Multi-Platform Campaign, Corporate-Community

Entered in Education


Illiteracy is a major issue in the developed world with 32 million illiterate adults in the US alone and it has an effect on all aspects of their life, including their physical and mental health and the health of their children.

Project Literacy is a movement of 100+ diverse partners convened by Pearson to tackle illiteracy globally. Its aim is to raise awareness of the issue and drive action that makes significant advances in the fight against illiteracy. Without literacy you cannot access education, you are more likely to be unemployed and you are more likely to experience poverty and health issues. Yet, since the turn of the century, tackling illiteracy has ground to a halt, decreasing by just 1% in that time.

Progress has stalled because illiteracy is a vicious cycle that is passed on from generation to generation. The single greatest indicator of a child's future success is the literacy of their parents. Children born into illiteracy are 72% more likely to grow up illiterate.

This campaign sought to:

1. Increase the impact of marketing on the challenge by:

2. Bring the work of our partners closer to the campaign.
3. Increase the positive halo effect of Project Literacy on the Pearson brand.

Strategy and Execution

This year, Project Literacy has set out to break the cycle of illiteracy by focusing on Adult Illiteracy – because if we can teach illiterate adults to read, we can break the cycle once and for all.

Our 'First Words' campaign brings to life the inspiring journey of real adults who are, with the support of our literacy partners, working towards conquering the stigma and shame of not being able to read by bravely taking the step to learn to read and write. It is having a transformative effect on their lives, and we're asking the public to 'give their word' in recognition of their efforts through donations, volunteering and supporting the movement with their voice.

Most people learn to read at such a young age that they take it for granted and can't imagine how difficult it would be to start from scratch as an adult. Our online film shows the major challenge facing an illiterate adult in learning to read, contrasted against the joy of seeing children reading for the first time.

Additional content shows their full story, the challenges they've faced along the way and the positive difference literacy has made to their lives. Stories include improved mental health brought about by increased peace of mind and the ability to cook confidently for a daughter with a peanut allergy.

The campaign film launched across digital media and was supported by a number of different activities simultaneously at SXSW 2017.

We launched a report a new report predicting that technological advances will soon enable over 2 billion smartphones to read and write. At the current rate of technological progress, devices and machines powered by AI and voice recognition software will surpass the literacy level of one in seven American adults within the next ten years

At the Project Literacy booth, we showcased a number of truly inspiring stories of real adults learning to read and write. Attendees shared words of support for the individuals to encourage them on their journey to improved literacy

We held a Spelling Bee for the 32 million people in the US who can't participate. The Bee was hosted by comedian Sean Patton and was livestreamed across Facebook, YouTube and Twitter to allow anyone who couldn't attend to get involved. We raised awareness of the Spelling Bee among the attendees of SXSW by spreading misspelt words across the festival and challenging those on site to 'out spell' their peers.

We also hosted a distinguished speaker panel who discussed the challenge of adult literacy and the latest research about how technology is leaving some people behind, and how that same technology can be used to help others become literate.

The campaign spread online through our social community, partner charities and via our influencer network.


The campaign has had a very positive impact in making people aware of adult literacy as a developed world problem in addition to a developing world one and by focusing in this area it has made a previously insurmountable problem feel beatable.

But most importantly, we have seen an increase in illiterate adults signing up to start their own journey to literacy, walking into partner programs across the country.


Video for Project Literacy – First Words

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