Cannes Lions

Illiterate Ads

VMLY&R, Bucharest / PEPCO / 2023

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Case Film






The educational system in Romania is inadequate. Despite repeated interventions, it remains chronically underfunded and lacks a clear vision. Romania invests the least in the EU in education: only 2.4% of GDP, only half the EU average. A tiny proportion with devastating future consequences for the children in rural areas as over 60% of them are illiterate and struggle to read and write by age 14.

Pepco, the go-to store for families and children in the eastern European region and with more than 400 stores in Romania, wanted to make the nation aware of this illiteracy pandemic, in order to start a catalyst for change.

By raising awareness and sounding the alarm on this critical issue ignored for far too long, Pepco was determined to make illiterate children the top priority in Romania’s educational system.


ILLITERATE ADS: In a bold move to make a point about equal education rights, Pepco decided to tap the internet’s hate and put its Back To School campaign in the hands of unexpected copywriters: illiterate schoolchildren from rural communities. The internet reacted unknowingly to the genuinely misspelled ads as people jumped in to point out each and every writing mistake.

On September 8th, World Literacy Day, and just as school’s right about to start in Romania, we revealed the unseen story of the young writers in a short documentary that instantly started a national debate about the invisible illiteracy gap: 6 out of 10 kids are still struggling to read and write when they graduate primary school.


Pepco decided to bring attention to the issue of illiteracy among children and elevate it to the national social agenda. However, people were used to turning a blind eye to the issue, so Pepco needed to force the public to confront it head-on. The campaign was aimed at individuals in urban areas with greater access to resources and educational opportunities, who are often disconnected from the harsh realities of their rural counterparts. As a result, these rather privileged individuals have a sense of superiority and impatience towards correcting the errors of others, this being a common behavior among Romanians.

That’s why a Back to School campaign plagued with writing mistakes made social media react immediately, throwing hate on the brand and its copywriting skills.


A month prior to the start of a new school year, Pepco's promotion for school supplies was riddled with spelling errors on their social media channels, causing a backlash from users who were viscerally trying to highlight every copywriting mistake.

On World Literacy Day, September 8th, just as school was about to start, Pepco revealed the identity of the copywriters to the outraged audience - actual illiterate children, through a short documentary that told their story and highlighted the educational system's failure in rural areas.

The outcry shifted from criticism towards the illiterate ads to those responsible for underfunding education for decades. Pepco followed it up with financial support for educational NGOs to launch a National Literacy Program, which aims to expand their reach and impact beyond their typical student population. The move generated widespread attention, with media initiating critical discussions about the issue with the government and general public.


Pepco's campaign sparked a national movement that revitalized public consciousness regarding the issue of illiteracy - a long-neglected problem by the Romanian government and society for more than three decades. Their efforts galvanized the nation, igniting a call to action against this critical issue.

The impact of the campaign was profound, as it reached 5.1 million Romanians and stirring over 370k reactions. Today, an overwhelming 91% of Romanians recognize illiteracy as the foremost challenge facing education.

In addition to the campaign's wide reach, its impact on the ground was equally impressive. Collaborating with educational NGOs to launch the National Literacy Program, which united all efforts towards the cause, led to 362% more children and 279% more schools reached than before.

These outcomes demonstrate the power of collective action in driving meaningful change and empowering citizens to address critical issues.

Similar Campaigns

2 items

1 Eurobest Award
Illiterate Ads

VMLY&R, Bucharest

Illiterate Ads

2023, PEPCO

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