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You’ve got nowt without a story

June 22, 2010

The Motor Neurone Disease Association‘s high profile campaign – Patrick the Incurable Optimist – has launched recently with an eye catching poster run on the London Underground.

The story

The story is simple. Patrick is an artist. He’s also got motor neurone disease. He’s going to die. But before he does he’s set himself a challenge, to draw 100 pictures as 100 reasons for everyone to remain incurable optimist. And in so doing his legacy to the world – not least to his family – is that he is quite literally an incurable optimist.

The advertising campaign is breathtakingly simple too. I saw this hoarding at Bond Street tube station this morning. I saw the headline first: Only Months to Live. 100 Portraits To Paint. The photograph makes the subject – Patrick – appear like an everyday healthy individual. You could see him anywhere.

When I read the smaller print underneath, the pathos of his situation is brought home to me. It stops me dead. It makes me think. It makes me imagine what it must be like for him. He’s confronting his future head on. He’s turning it outwards. He’s inviting us to look in. And all at the same time I’m still struck by how he looks like an otherwise healthy individual. This isn’t meant to happen.

Hours later, I’ve taken a look around the website advertised on the poster. I’ve found myself stumbling on the video on the front page (included below). All objectivity and impartiality has floated out of the window. I’ve cried. I feel humbled. I feel helpless.

Patrick isn’t just an incurable optimist. He’s incredibly strong. He sends out a positive message. The people around him – his wife Sarah especially – is an inspiration. And that is communicated in 4 or so minutes of the video. And that is powerful.

The user experience

That user experience – the poster on the underground; imagining the awfulness of a situation; visiting a website; watching a video – demonstrates some brilliant thinking on the part of the marketers behind this campaign.

The idea was simple. The premise even simpler. Patrick’s life story so far is communicated in a few short lines of copy plastered all over the Underground wall. The story plays out in my head, my imagination stimulated by that copy. The video on the website only underlines the simple message behind it.

But it also has another ace up its sleeve. This campaign highlights once again how traditional journalistic structures are being challenged.

You’d normally see it on the TV

In years gone by, a video like the one below would be something you’d see in a documentary on television. It would have its own place in the schedules and would – almost certainly – suffer the humiliation of low viewing figures. The message would be lost. People wouldn’t watch it. They’d make an instant judgement as the programme opened. This is not something they’d want to watch in the evening.

And yet, condense the message to 4 minutes and offer it as part of an immersive website experience and people will pay attention. My experience proves it enough for me. And that is powerful. Because aside from the charitable aspirations of such a project, that piece of video content exists in its own right. It has the potential to move or inspire just like television had the monopoly on a few years ago.

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From → Media

One Comment
  1. cyberguycalif permalink

    That was very touching to watch, it makes you think that no matter how bad you may think your life is, there are other people in the world with bigger problems.

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