Operation Smile – The Art of Distraction

Saatchi & Saatchi Cape Town uses ‘The Art of Distraction’ with illustrations and rhyme from three cleft-lipped children in a new radio and print campaign for Operation Smile South Africa, a non-profit organisation that provides free reconstructive surgery for those with cleft lips and palates. Aimed at garnering public support for this worthwhile cause, the radio and print campaigns focus on three cleft-lipped children, Sally, Elvis and Charlie who tackle the problem of their clefts using various distractions in three ingenious ways.

Operation Smile Sally

Operation Smile Elvis

Operation Smile Charlie

“The objective of the campaign was to bring the reality of cleft lips and palates to our audience’s attention but without the shock value so often attached to such causes,” says Sammy-Jane Thom, Creative Director at Saatchi & Saatchi Cape Town.

“We found the most interesting way for us to do this was to use illustrations combining a sense of fantasy with reality based on the universal insight that people will do funny or strange things to divert attention away from the things that they are self-conscious about. Distracting people from things we don’t want them to see is universal, but it becomes all the more endearing and heart-breaking when we see the way children do this.”

She says that the campaign execution involved inviting images and rhyming narrative reminiscent of those found in children’s storybooks. “In order to distract you from their deformities, Sally has a monkey that lives in her hair, Charlie has a purple dot on his forehead and Elvis owns a very clever sock puppet,” she adds.

Listen to the radio track at saatchi.co.za/work/operation_smile


The Art of Distraction campaign was developed at Saatchi & Saatchi South Africa, Cape Town, by creative director Sammy-Jane Thom, art director Larissa Elliott, copywriter Marcelle du Plessis, account director Sheherazaad Allie and illustrator Johan Strauss.

Sound was produced at Jam.