Case study: Motor Neurone Disease Association

The charity's graphic depiction of a woman losing control of her body led to a massive surge in website traffic and gets the thumbs-up from our expert reviewer

Sarah's Story
Sarah's Story

Adverts don't hit much harder than Sarah's Story, the Motor Neurone Disease Association's 90-second film that shows with brutal realism the impact the progressive disease has on those who have it.

"We wanted to produce an honest advert demonstrating the physical and emotional aspects of motor neurone disease," says Mel Barry, communications manager at the association.

That's why Sarah Ezekiel, who has had the disease for 10 years, agreed to be involved. She appears at the end of the film in a wheelchair, having lost her speech, in a scene that reveals the impact of the disease on her body - a stark contrast from the healthy young woman at the beginning of the film, played by an actor.

Independent creative directors Peers Carter and Tony Muranka approached the association with the idea, having worked with the charity on a previous campaign. The advert was produced by Bare Films. All parties worked for free.

The film was shown in UK cinemas for four weeks from January 2009 and again in June last year to coincide with MND Awareness Week, when it was accompanied by a poster campaign on the London Underground and at train stations nationwide.

The Advertising Standards Authority rejected five complaints from cinemagoers, but Clearcast, the TV advertising watchdog, deemed the advert unsuitable to be broadcast on TV even after the evening watershed.

Barry says: "We had discussions about the shocking nature of the film and the impact it might have, but we knew it was the right thing to do. We had 90 seconds to show how this disease shakes up your life. We involved people with motor neurone disease and they told us how it felt'."

The media interest caused by the TV ban drove more people to watch the film online. At the height of the campaign there was a 307 per cent increase in the number of hits to the association's website, while the Sarah's Story site, saw a 1,013 per cent increase in visitors.

The cinema adverts were screened again in February 2010 before the campaign ended. By then, the film had attracted more than 70,000 internet views since January 2009. "Our target was 20,000," says Barry. "So it exceeded our expectations."

Allie Anderson

EXPERT VIEW - Simon White, Managing director, Grey London

This is excellent communication. First, it's impossible to ignore. It builds tension from the beginning and is very dramatic.

Second, it replaces ignorance with understanding. Although I can't really know what it feels like to have motor neurone disease, this short film goes a long way to helping me understand the devastating nature of it. You don't just know this - you feel it.

Third, it does not resort to the shock and scare tactics of so much charity advertising, which means I'm left with a feeling of empathy rather than pity and helplessness.

Finally, it's honest, having involved a sufferer, which means that when I go online to learn more, my sense of connection and understanding is only increased further. I can only congratulate everyone involved in creating what I must describe as highly effective communication.

Creativity: 4
Delivery: 5
9 out of 10

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