Retirement and old age are oftentimes perceived as the dessert of a time well spent. But for some, reaping the fruits of life comes at a price, especially in times when many cannot afford heating and electricity, and the quiet epidemic of loneliness tears its way through this population. This is why charities such as Age UK focus on helping older people with issues they face on the daily, and the reality of the situations they find themselves in, be it mental health issues, physical mobility, or monetary problems. This winter especially, the agonising push of the rising gas and electricity prices has affected the elderly disproportionately to other large parts of the population, and has produced a domino effect that has also increased other difficulties.
Age UK, as one of the leading voices in the space, wanted to portray their unrelenting support for UK’s elderly population and remind others that despite the serenity that comes with the later stages of life, not everything comes up roses. The charity teamed up with agency neverland (who won the account in late 2022 through a pitch process run by Oystercatchers) and Spindle Films to create three poignant films on the subject. Basing the stories on real life events, the three 30-second edits and the longer 60-second launch film, show three characters living life to the northern soul classic ‘Be Young, Be Foolish, Be Happy’. The sense of security and optimism that the track provides soon deteriorates, as audiences realise that each of the characters is facing a dire situation in their life, with one of them being totally lost after a bus ride, and the other two worried sick about paying the bills.
“I’m so cold,” mutters one of the characters into the phone while visibly shaking. “I don’t know what to do anymore.” Then, a comforting voice is heard on the other side of the line: “It’s okay. Let’s get you some help.” Each of the films wraps up with one simple message: “Age UK knows what to do.”
“We felt that that line held so much power and confidence,” says Kathi Hall, head of content strategy and brand at Age UK. “It both showcases the expertise we have throughout the entire organisation to the public, but also, internally, it gives everyone at Age UK real pride in the work that they do.”
The research that spurred the start of the campaign was around how much the public knows and how it feels about the charity. And while, unsurprisingly, many saw Age UK as a compassionate organisation that is ready to help, many weren’t clear on the level of expertise in their work or how exactly they help older people. “So that was the brief,” says Kathi. “How do we talk about our expertise, through the vehicle of our national ‘Advice Line’, in a way that will show people what we do - both older people who need our expertise and supporters who would understand the urgency of why they need to support our work.”
After receiving the pitch, neverland got to work. In fact, the films were produced almost immediately after winning the business, meaning the ideation process had bega=un as part of the pitch, but continued afterwards in close collaboration with Kathi.“As a society, we make a lot of what we call ‘convenient assumptions’ about older people,” explains Noel Bunting, executive creative director at neverland. “That they are comfortably retired, have lots of family and friends around them, that if they are out and about then they’re doing fine. But really, the suffering of older people is not always obvious. We needed to capture the UK’s attention so we could break these assumptions, and help people see that not only were many older people facing serious issues, but that they could be part of the solution.”
This is also why neverland didn’t want to overcrowd the message that was so important for the charity. “While ‘Know what to do’ is direct, it also has a double meaning,” highlights Noel, speaking of the expertise it points to, but also the call to action to the wider UK community.
But how does one strategise correctly when trying to reach older audiences, especially on video format? Kathi explains that the campaign was planned with Age UK’s media buyers Manning Gottlieb, to get the greatest reach of their target market through their ‘linear BVOD TV buy’ for the five weeks run time of the campaign. After this period ends, the campaign gets more targeted through various YouTube ads and paid social media. “Age UK is also highlighting how we help older people through our organic social channels, to ensure that we are reaching both older people who need us and family and friends who might be concerned about them,” explains Kathi.
Noel explains that he is immensely proud of the relationship neverland has built with Age UK in such a short amount of time, and that it is one built on trust, open communication and a real passion for making a difference. During the pitch process at the back end of last year, it became clear to the charity that neverland really ‘got’ what they were all about. “Who we are, what we’re trying to do. And they really believed in us,” says Kathi. Neither did that change once they won the pitch. This is why the creative partnership during the making of their first campaign together was exactly that - a partnership of equals. “Both sides brought their A-game to the table - there was so much energy and enthusiasm over the months we worked on this campaign and a real commitment to resolving any issue as soon as possible.”
It was important that the films were as authentic as possible, and director Molly Burdett (named best new director at the 2021 Kinsale Sharks and winning a Glass Lion in 2022) was set on hinging the idea on the performances feeling real. Not only were the films inspired by the stories of real life people who Age UK have spoken to through their advice line, but Molly and the team made sure to cast the net as wide as possible, to make sure they found the perfect actors to represent these stories. “The final actors’ performances were so incredible that they had most of us in tears on set. And each of them made the final films impossible to look away from,” says Noel.
In fact, each performance was so hard-hitting that the initial 60-second film - which has the three vignettes in it - became the three separate 30-second stories, instead of getting cut down. “The 60-second showed some of the breadth of issues for older people, while the shorter films go down into the very personal story in particular,” explains Kathi.
The incredible work of the cast and raw nature of the stories they told was further emphasised by the 1:66:1 aspect ratio used for the films. Noel says, “The power of this aspect ratio is that it puts the focus squarely on our cast. It frames each of them in a very personal way, drawing the viewer and helping build a stronger sense of connection with the people we see.”
Location scouting also helped with narrowing the stories and bringing them closer to home. Noel describes the locations they chose as “unquestionably authentic,” with a lot of lived-in texture, but above all, neverland was set on avoiding cliches such as shots in care homes. “So much work went into making sure we got each of the locations and how they were dressed spot on,” which audiences can see in the smallest details of set design in the two houses of the films.
And while neverland wanted to carry the same detailed worlds throughout all the films, they needed to reflect two different moods of each half of the launch film. This is also evident in the moodboards that were separated between first and second half of the films, pointing to the key shift from what we’d all like to think the reality of retirement is to what the characters are actually experiencing. “You might notice that the first halves of the films are warmer, with brown, orange and yellow tones, and the other was much starker, with cooler, darker tones coming through. I think this came together brilliantly in the way that Molly and her team shot the work,” adds Noel.
The striking difference in moods from the first half to the second half of the main film was also carried through the music, or more importantly - its absence. “For the idea to really hit home, we knew it was key for us to build up the positive and cheery atmosphere - it makes the rug pull, as the viewer realises what’s happening in the lives of the people they are watching, even more powerful,” explains Noel. Neverland had made the decision to not include the music on the 30’-second version at all, which is probably the reason why they cut so deep and are so difficult to look away from, especially with the strength of the very few lines of script. “It’s just you and the older person. And then thankfully, Age UK!”