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How NHS England Pushed Out New Bowel Cancer Testing Campaign


M&C Saatchi London’s creative director Tom Kennedy tells LBB’s Zoe Antonov about the meticulous targeting behind the campaign that promised ‘your next poo could save your life’

How NHS England Pushed Out New Bowel Cancer Testing Campaign

Last week the UK’s national healthcare provider, NHS England and agency M&C Saatchi London came together to tell us why the next poo we take can save our lives. In a bid to ramp up cancer detection rates nationwide for all types of the disease, the NHS came up with a new campaign to inspire those eligible to take their bowel cancer test when it comes in the post.

The important thing to remember here is that bowel cancer can be detected through tests way before it actually presents itself as a series of symptoms - so, those who get their faecal immunochemical test (or FIT) kit, benefit greatly from using them. 

The NHS and M&C Saatchi wanted to portray the ease with which one can do the FIT and why those crucial few seconds of doing it after a poo can actually save your life. And the way they chose to do that was through a film about somebody completing the test with a literal spring in their step. In the campaign film, we see our main character overcome with emotion, as he breaks out in a toilet roll-ribbon dance through his house and outside in his garden, before quickly completing the FIT in the loo. 

Utilising the track ‘I’ve got to be me’ by Sammy Davis Jr, the film brings an instant burst of happiness and in it's own right, is a celebration of life. 

LBB’s Zoe Antonov spoke to creative director Tom Kennedy about how they made the film humorous but not ironic for this incredibly serious subject, why they used real loo roll and what the casting process for the dancer was.

LBB> What was the brief for this campaign and what were the initial ideas and concepts the team came up with?

Tom> The problem is both fascinating and terrifying. One third of people who receive the bowel cancer screening kit in the post, don't complete it. That's due to a combination of reasons, some fear it, others feel they don't need it, and some just find it a bit much to think about – putting it in a pile of 'to do’s' that they never get around to. The mission was to get people to take the kit out of that pile, and put it by the loo where they can’t ignore it. 

The proposition from our senior strategist Hannah Thompson was fantastic: “Ok, it's a bit weird, but it could save your life” – who wouldn’t want to work on that brief? As you can imagine, every team at M&C Saatchi felt the same.

And we set out to find a distinctive idea that would truly make the next trip to the loo memorable. 

LBB> What kind of research informed the campaign and why was it important for NHS England to reach a wider audience?

Tom> Research informs everything we do when we work with NHS England. At the outset of the project, Define Research & Insight ran a number of qualitative research groups to give us a deeper understanding of the audience’s motivations and barriers to completing the test. We took this opportunity to also test a range of different strategic territories. A subject matter like this isn’t easy to talk about – these groups were essential in helping us to pin down the tone. 

A second wave of research was then carried out at the creative concept stage, testing several different creative ideas with our audience to understand which resonated best and the effect on people’s intention to participate in bowel cancer screening. It was at this stage that we learnt just how impactful the idea of a ‘life-saving poo’ could be. 

Ultimately, we needed eligible people to complete the test when sent one, but reaching a wider audience was key to boosting overall awareness of the screening programme, as well as priming those who may not be eligible yet and reaching friends and family who we know can act as key influencers for this audience.   

LBB> 'Your next poo could save your life' is a brilliant piece of copywriting. How did you come up with this and were there other possibilities? Why was that the perfect one-liner for the campaign?

Tom> This campaign for bowel cancer expanded on a smaller one that we did for the Greater London area. And to us, it has always been a powerful line that provokes thought. 
It also worked brilliantly with the joyous lyrics of Sammy Davis Jr: “I want to live, not merely survive”.

LBB> How did you come up with the idea of a ribbon dancer and why was it appropriate for the campaign? It's a very unique way to approach the topic.

Tom> Our teams showed us a lot of creative, challenging, and powerful ways to bring this message to life, but when our creative team Ed East and Amy Parkhill brought the idea of ribbon dancing to the table it really stood out. 

It was distinctive, joyful and something people would remember. One of our clients described it early on as 'a celebration of living' and there's something really true in that statement. 

LBB> Tell me about the choice of music and the process of using it in the film.

Tom> We had playlist after playlist with close-but-not-quite options for music. We all knew what we were after: recognisable but affordable, charming but not ironic, a real earworm without being annoying.  

That's when our creative partner Guy Bradbury played the track ‘I’ve got to be me’ by Sammy Davis Jr in the meeting. It was unbeatable and a unanimous decision from then. We used it everywhere, from casting to choreography to the shoot day, playing it on loop. 

Amazingly, we still felt that joy watching the dance reach its crescendo every time. 

LBB> How did you go about casting the main character? Did you seek somebody who is a dancer or did he learn in the process?

Tom> We saw a lot of dancers, of varying levels of ability and style, but what we were really looking for was charm, relatability, and likeability – our actor Sean had all those qualities. He was able to lose himself in the moment, and that’s the thing that enables him to take the audience with him.  

When our choreographer Supple Nam put him through his paces in casting, we found ourselves willing him to nail it. He was exactly what we wanted for the role. 

LBB> How were the loo roll effects done, especially when it seems to shoot off into space, or when it leaves a dancing trail around the house?

Tom> Believe it or not, the loo roll is loo roll. The guys played with different options, but in the house, it was by far the best medium. Sean's height again played to our advantage, his long arms help it flow in a similar way to the sticks used in rhythmic gymnastics. When the dance goes outside, we switch to silk, just to get that performance bigger with the umbrella. Overall, there's less trickery than you'd expect - again kudos to Sean and Supple for creating that movement. 

The beautiful effects were master strokes by our directors Si&Ad, our DOP Sebastian Winterø, and their production designer Mikey Hollywood. The firing into space was a foot pump pressure rocket similar to the ones you'd get as a kid, but taken up a notch. The floating ribbon flying up the stairs was actually a power drill reeling the paper in smoothly. 

Usually, practical effects like this take go after go and eat up valuable shoot time, but the team were so good, it was a thing of beauty seeing it brought to life.

LBB> There are some snippets within the film of the person completing the test - how did you make sure you depict those without showing too much, and was that difficult?

Tom> This was something we loved in Si&Ad’s treatment. It's always been important to show the door shut, as one of the major benefits of the test is that it can be done from the privacy of your own home. 

But the quick cut sequence also displays the ease of the test. That thing you're putting off doing is simple, quick and potentially lifesaving. 

It needed to feel a bit 'bish, bash, bosh', get it done. The Guy Richie/Edgar Wright cutting was perfect, without losing the importance of landing the kit properly. Sometimes in advertising the end bit can feel like the brand bit, but this all had real purpose and energy to create an impactful sequence. 

LBB> Tell me about the strategy behind the release and the platforms on which the film was released.

Tom> We used key broadcast channels to increase overall awareness of the bowel screening programme in order to inform and educate the audience, to some degree ‘normalising’ a rather abnormal topic. Broadcast media was supported by social media, gaming channels, community radio and search, for more targeted persuasive messaging to give our ‘passive intender’ audience an additional nudge. 

Beyond paid media, our partner agencies Freuds, 23Red, BDS Communications and MMC have supported the campaign through an array of PR and partner-led activity, and accessible and specialist multicultural communications targeted at communities that are traditionally harder to reach.  

LBB> How long did production take and what were the most fun parts of the process?

Tom> From treatment sign-off to the shoot, the whole process was just under four weeks. It was a fast turnaround, but we had a strong team pulling in the same direction, plus a client team that really respects and understands the process. 
In terms of the fun bits, there were many, but the casting call-back was a tough day to beat. Watching a series of 50-plus-year-old men dancing around a studio with toilet paper was a pretty surreal reminder of how enjoyable our jobs can be.

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M&C Saatchi London, Mon, 27 Feb 2023 16:55:50 GMT