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How an Agency Created a 33rd Irish County for Cancer Survivors


The Brill Building creative directors Peter Snodden and Dan Henson tell LBB’s Alex Reeves how Co. Saolfada (The County of Survival) came into existence and went on to be the top scoring Irish campaign at the 2022 Kinsale Shark awards

How an Agency Created a 33rd Irish County for Cancer Survivors

If Irish cancer survivors had their own county, the population would be as big as Cork City, or one of the counties of Limerick, Kildare, or Meath. This was the insight behind The Brill Building’s ‘Co. Saolfada’ campaign for Breakthrough Cancer Research, which recently achieved the highest number of awards in creative categories for an Irish agency this year at the Kinsale Shark awards, and secured two international creative awards.

The idea meant that Ireland’s 200,000 cancer survivors were to be recognised as a 33rd county. Launched on National Cancer Survivors Day to enable Ireland’s cancer survivors to be the country’s fastest growing population through the commitment of more cancer research funding to find new treatments for poor-prognosis cancers.

An honorary county mayor, the former lord mayor of Cork, John Buttimer, and ambassador of culture and international dance superstar Michael Flatley were even appointed to represent the new county at launch.

LBB’s Alex Reeves chatted to creative directors Peter Snodden and Dan Henson about what made the campaign so unique.

LBB> Ireland's 33rd County: ‘Co. Saolfada’ for Breakthrough Cancer Research is the top scoring Irish campaign at the 2022 Shark awards. Congratulations! What do you think was so key to that idea being successful?

Peter> I think the key to it is making tangible the people who are alive today due to cancer research. In Ireland, we’re obsessed with what County we’re from. It’s woven into the sports we play, the accents we have and apparently, the characters we develop! Cork versus Dublin, ‘Cavan Man’, the soft-spoken Donegal renegade etc... We recognise counties, therefore Co. Saolfada (Gaelic for ‘County of Survival’) could be recognised as a place were anyone from Ireland who is surviving cancer can lay claim to being from. 

Dan> I think it was the scale of the idea. It’s was something that enabled its audience to immediately gauge the positive impact of breakthrough cancer treatment. 

Along with scale was scalability. We had very little time and budget to implement the idea so it was important that we could create an array of touch points which represented the idea across all traditional in non traditional mediums - disruptive and engaging.

Above: Peter, Roisin and Dan with their Sharks

LBB> Where did the brief start?

Dan> Well, the bones of the idea started on a call with Pete and Roisin [Keown, founder and executive creative director] in Aviva stadium queuing for the vaccine! We were first asked to deliver a social post that helped understand that there were 200,000 survivors living in Ireland.

Peter> The initial brief started with a small campaign for a couple of Facebook posts. When Rois took the brief, she identified that there was another opportunity to say something greater about what Breakthrough Cancer Research does in Ireland. This is a strength the Brill Building have - we passionately believe every brief should get interrogated, big or small, to see if it’s working as hard as it should for our client. 

LBB> How did the idea lead to the ‘#MakeMoreSurvivors’ concept being developed?

Peter> ‘#MakeMoreSurvivors’ was the tagline to a previous campaign that followed on the heels of the goal set out by ‘The Shop That Nearly Wasn’t’ which was, ‘100% Survival for 100% of Cancer’. That campaign promoted the fact that investment in cancer research leads directly to better treatment and survival rates. In our own research for that campaign - speaking to cancer researchers, doctors and most affectingly, survivors - we heard the stark truth that some cancers are more survivable today than they were five years ago and so on, due to funded research. There are people that we love who are still here because of advances in cancer research. It’s very powerful sitting face to face with a fellow human telling you they wouldn’t be here without advances in cancer treatment. By donating, you become part of the team, along with the incredible cancer researchers and doctors who help ‘#MakeMoreSurvivors’. Hindsight makes the line seem obvious.

Dan> Make more survivors is the overarching idea that is core to the work we have done. It keeps us honest and reminds us of the purpose of the work while always moving forward.

LBB> It also followed the massively successful ‘Shop That Nearly Wasn't’. How did you make sure it felt fresh but still true to the journey the brand was taking?

Peter> In any campaign, for anyone that we work with at The Brill Building, it’s important to speak from the truth/core of what they do and why you should be interested. The cleaner and clearer that voice is, the easier it is to come up with ideas. ‘The Shop that Nearly Wasn’t’ was a cool idea - answering a specific brief based on a well worked out core brand idea. When put at the base of a different brief, other ideas can spring, like the campaign for Co. Saolfada. Once we were speaking from the personality of the brand, then loads of ideas became possible.

Dan> Positivity is the key. It needs to feel like we have reframed a truth in an uplifting way. That’s something to celebrate which is present in the Shop that Nearly Wasn’t and Saolfada.

LBB> I heard it was extremely quick. How fast did you move, and what allowed that?

Dan> Creative licence, trust from the client, trust in ability within our core team. A collaborative partnership where PR and media are pulling in the same direction as us and good old-fashioned hard work and the belief you will make it happen.

Peter> There’s nothing like a deadline to get the juices flowing quickly! But, for it to be successful, there probably has to be something more to it.

It was pretty fast alright and right from the beginning. Within hours of the initial smaller brief, we were working on it as an opportunity for Breakthrough Cancer Research to get their message out there, albeit with a reimagined list of deliverables. Within a day, we were sitting in the same room with a bottomless pot of tea and a packet of ginger crunch creams - not leaving until we had the campaign idea. The collective experience in the room is part of that, but also, the Brill Building’s strength - in being able to establish core brand message and voice. This work had been done when we initially re-established Breakthrough Cancer Research’s brand, which led to ’The Shop that Nearly Wasn’t’. In this case, being true to that core message allowed us to dream big, so we could punch above the weight of the budget given the strength of what we had to say.

On a practical level, we work with an ace bunch of people outside of the agency. Having them become part of the team made life easier, as it allowed us to turn things around quickly. For example, within an hour of being sure the concept was right, we had our camera operator onboard as part of the creative team - ready to roll with the shared aim of making something ace.

LBB> What do you credit the client’s bravery to? After all, they backed doing something as cheeky as adapting Ireland's road signs.

Peter> I think it’s about their attitude. They’ve gone out there to say they’ll bring cancer death rates down and survival up by any means necessary, which is pretty ballsy.

Dan> BCR are not a stranger to trying different and disruptive ways to leverage earned media. They are a charity and rely on the good will of others - they are very quick to see an opportunity and are really only a small team so are not afraid of reacting quickly if needed. As a new and relatively small creative agency we had a similar approach particularly with the shop and Saolfada. We worked beyond ourselves to create a bigger impact.

Peter> Orla [Dolan, chief executive] from Breakthrough Cancer Research was a passionate ally, and we were able to push and challenge each other for what would work best. Knowing the stakes meant that road signs twinning Saolfada with counties of a similar size was a no-brainer (when that part of the idea presented itself).

Above: Peter Snodden and Dan Henson

LBB> How did you work with the post-production team in The Element to turn the TV around in that time?

Peter> The team at The Element are always a great ally, no matter what the job is. We were well prepped going into the editing suite, with our storyboard and script. The turnaround was obviously also very quick - spending the last couple of days with them to get it over the line. Chriona [O’Sullivan, director of post-production] and the team in The Element are steady hands though, and always there to solve a problem before it occurs. They’re just what you need when the job has to be turned around quickly!

LBB> Now it’s getting a lot of recognition, what part of the project are you most proud of?

Pater> I’m proud that it is getting recognition, which means more people are hearing the important message it delivers and engaging with the idea that supporting cancer research in Ireland is helping grow the population of Saolfada daily.

It’s also just a great source of pride to be part of Breakthrough Cancer Research’s story, and its success.

Dan> I suppose the reach of such a simple idea. It was a bit of a reflex to go in that direction and then a couple of weeks later we see the scale of the media uptake was as rewarding as it was with the shop. The shop's success was a homerun with our first hit, so it feels great to have achieved success again particularly with Breakthrough Cancer Research.

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The Brill Building, Wed, 26 Oct 2022 08:45:12 GMT