In 2005, public awareness of the Motor Neurone Disease Association was stuck at 20 per cent. The charity knew that it needed to raise the profile of the condition and the organisation at the same time.
However, it felt that it did not have the resources for a national awareness campaign, according to Sarah Fitzgerald, former head of communications and information at the charity and now director at Self Communications.
The charity was approached by the creative directors Peers Carter and Tony Muranka with the idea of photographing a person with the disease at intervals and displaying a series of posters that showed their deterioration in real time. Armed with this concept, the charity secured support from CBS Outdoor (then Viacom Outdoor), which donated two key sites on the London Underground.
"Finding the right 'face' was critical," says Fitzgerald. "John Bell was a young father who was in a wheelchair and was losing his speech. He and his wife Charlotte were true partners in our campaign and their willingness to participate in photo shoots and media interviews was incredible." The charity launched its John's Journey campaign in 2005, and the posters followed John's progression until his death in 2007. A website supported the campaign and featured video diary entries and a messaging facility.
"This was a social media campaign when social media barely existed," says Fitzgerald. "We had more than 100,000 web visitors and received 1,200 messages from around the world."
The charity hoped the campaign would raise enough to recoup its £25,000 costs. Instead, it raised £230,000. By mid-2006, awareness of the charity had more than doubled to 50 per cent. "Charities have always used case studies, but the 'real-time' single-person and social media elements seemed to be adopted more by other charities after John's Journey," says Fitzgerald.
Similar 'diary' campaigns since then include one launched by Arthritis Care in 2007 called People Like Us.
Since John's Journey, the Motor Neurone Disease Association has continued to run campaigns that focus on individual stories. Its latest campaign features another young father who was diagnosed with the disease and who was inspired to share his own story after hearing about John's Journey.
EXPERT VIEW: Chris Norman, strategy director, The Good Agency
Conceived as an awareness and profile-raising campaign, John's Journey ran on two poster sites on the London Underground. The key aim was to raise awareness of motor neurone disease and the charity, and no one who saw the poster campaign will have forgotten it. It was brave enough to let the person best qualified tell the story - tell it as only he could.
The campaign used a cross-channel approach and was an early example of joined-up thinking, using the campaign website as the main response mechanism for donations. Supporters were also able to leave messages for John and his family online.
Since running this campaign, the charity has continued this brave approach. Patrick, an artist, and Alastair, a musician, have agreed to tell their own stories of living with the disease. They are helping to create a new dynamic in charity comms - using storytelling in the first person to close the gap between supporters and people affected by the condition.