Award-winning campaign helps Kiwis living with motor neurone disease 

With the goal of raising awareness and understanding of an illness that currently effects around 400 New Zealanders, Special teamed up with Motor Neurone Disease NZ to tell the personal and impactful story of ‘David’s Unusables’.

The work saw the agency take home a Silver in the Charity category of the 2022 Beacon Awards and not long after a Bronze and Gold at Cannes Lions in PR and Health and Wellness categories respectively.

The emotive campaign is centred around the life of David Seymour, as he sells prized possessions he can no longer use due to the effects of motor neurone disease, in staged Trade Me auctions.

Motor neurone disease (MND) causes nerve cells to die meaning the muscles that control a person’s ability to speak, move, speak, swallow, and breathe gradually weaken resulting in a gradual loss of function.

Rory Gallery, Chief Strategic Officer at Special New Zealand, says the comparatively low profile of the disease poses a big challenge to the charity and those living with the illness.

Rory Gallery.

“In a nation of about five million people, around 20 percent have had Covid, 250,000 are living with diabetes, you’ve got 170,000 with heart disease. When it comes to motor neurone disease there are currently about 400 people living with the illness. Compared with other illnesses it’s a really small figure and that poses a really big challenge.

“The illness has low levels of awareness and understanding compared to other diseases which makes it much harder to access support and funding and in turn that is a huge problem for the people who suffer from the burden of living with it.

“What we needed to do was create more awareness and empathy around the illness. The more people who know about MND the better when they are seeking funding and when they want to do research which benefits people living with the illness.”

With a charity as a client, it was imperative that the impact of the campaign was measurable and the way Special did this was three-fold, Gallery says.

“One was to deliver an impactful media message because we had a small budget, so it was important we generated some PR around that. Secondly, we wanted to create an ROI, because when you spend money in the charity category you want to ensure that advertising has had an effect. And thirdly, making sure that New Zealanders were aware of the illness and in turn showing empathy towards it.”

Lisa Fedyszyn, Executive Creative Director at Special Group New Zealand, says this strategy combined with David’s bravery was what made it stand out.

Lisa Fedyszyn.

“That very visceral and visual idea of slowly selling everything you own as you lose mobility and facilities and all the things you love, and doing it so publicly as well.”

She says the campaign highlighted how active David once was and the finality of selling off the everyday items he can no longer use.

“He has a family, a dog he loves and he loved running and hiking. By selling all those things like a dog leash or running shoes or a bike and the stories behind them, we were turning the marketplace platform into a place to tell emotional stories.”

The campaign saw earned media coverage of around $350,000 and included a segment on the six o’clock news which Gallery says was a huge win.

“In terms of media ROI it was about $20 for every $1 spent and in terms of evidence of awareness, we reached about 25 percent of New Zealanders with David’s story. The listings themselves were viewed around 60,000 times,” Gallery says.

Fedyszyn says one of the things Special was really excited about was how well the campaign’s message translated to PR.

“You have no control once it goes into editorial. This was unpaid, but the headlines were ‘Man with MND sells items he no longer needs’.

“They actually picked up the story directly. David was the face of it so we were having that emotional story told through lots of different platforms and always driving to the very personal and final stories of the items themselves.”

However, the real success was that David helped more people understand the disease, Gallery says.

“I think that’s such a selfless act on his behalf. The thing we take pride in is the fact that we were able to make a difference and help David tell his story. He is the hero in this, the brave person who made huge sacrifices and put himself in the spotlight. I’m proud of him and he did an amazing job.”

 Fedyszyn says the Special team couldn’t have done it without David and the experience taught them the importance of having a simple idea and staying true to it.

“The way it was picked up and repeated through PR was exactly how we were telling the story. It didn’t veer off.”

As for Gallery, he says the campaign has made him think a little bit more about how to create empathy particularly in charity and purpose driven work.

“We probably learned a thing or two along the way around how to do that.”

About Author

Ayla Miller is a Feature Writer/Sub-editor for SCG Media Business titles, NZ Marketing, StopPress, Idealog and The Register.

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