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Unicef’s Belgium arm wanted a television spot that would really grab people’s attention and illustrate the horrors of war. They used the Smurfs and bombed their village.

Belgian television viewers were given a preview of the 25-second film earlier this week, when it was shown on the main evening news. The reactions ranged from approval to shock and, in the case of small children who saw the episode by accident, wailing terror.

(Yeah, big shocker there.)

Philippe Henon, a spokesman for Unicef Belgium, said his agency had set out to shock, after concluding that traditional images of suffering in Third World war zones had lost their power to move television viewers. “It’s controversial,” he said. “We have never done something like this before but we’ve learned over the years that the reaction to the more normal type of campaign is very limited.”

This I can agree with. The ad will be very powerful over in Europe, where there’s more of a regional pride connected with the Smurfs, but can you imagine the reaction you’d get in the US? It wouldn’t pack the same punch. “Cuddly” cartoons are already co-opted into less savory situations for ironic amusements, as in the case of Happy Tree Friends and a bunch of predecessors. This, on top of the amount of violence we already have on television. If such an ad was shown over here, it’d be brushed off as quirky or a misdirected attempt to invoke nostalgia.


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