Case Study: Help I Want To Save A Life

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In 2012, Droga5 helped launch 'Help I Want to Save a Life' and picked up a D&AD White Pencil in the process.

The campaign, to boost the number of people registering as bone marrow donors, was conceived as a personal project by the agency's then Creative Director, Graham Douglas. We take a look at how the award-winning work was conceived...

Help I Want To Save A Life was the simple yet innovative idea of distributing a bone marrow donor registry kit inside over the counter boxes of plasters. Traditionally, registry has required donors to lodge a DNA sample, typically blood. This kit - containing instructions, swabs and a pre-paid envelope - was designed to catch people while they were already bleeding. Ingenious!

By making bone marrow registry part of daily life, and a mass-produced consumer product, the 'Help I Want to Save A Life' campaign reached a huge, new audience and completely changed how bone marrow registry was achieved.

The Story

Graham' Douglas' twin brother was diagnosed with Leukaemia ten years ago. A donor was found and the operation was successful, but over the decade that followed, the complex and time-consuming process of finding a compatible donor for transplant played on Douglas' mind.

"The way the complexity of the registry process puts people off getting involved was shocking," he explains. "The time and cost involved, plus the misconception that DNA sampling will hurt are significant barriers to entry," says Douglas. "Meanwhile, most donors come forward because they know someone who has been affected. So as the years passed, I kept thinking: there has to be a better way."

As a senior agency creative, Douglas also taught at Miami Ad School and decided to pose his students a creative brief to promote bone marrow registry. He challenged them to break down the barriers for bone marrow registration by simplifying the process. Turning it from an active choice involving making an effort, to a process so easy it becomes a passive, everyday occurrence.

It was their innovation that inspired Douglas' idea of offering a marrow registration kit free inside an everyday box of sticking plasters. Though he was confident the idea was simple enough to work, he really needed the backing of a manufacturer to help underwrite the cost of making and distributing the kits. Plus, he had to find a bone marrow registry to manage and underwrite the cost of DNA sample processing. His first step was to approach leading plasters manufacturers.

Douglas received little interest from the large players, but a small pharmaceutical company called Help Remedies, were immediately receptive. Launched in 2008 by Richard Fine and Nathan Frank, Help Remedies quickly won praise for its unique packaging and design ethic - medicines that were sold in colour-coded packets and named after symptoms, not ingredients (eg 'Help I've Got a Headache'). 

"I didn't know Graham and had no idea what to expect when he came to meet with us," Frank recalls. "He'd sent a brief email that mentioned he had an idea that could save lives. That, and the Droga5 email address was enough to pique our interest. I was immediately impressed by the idea's simplicity and how it worked with human behaviour, not against it. This is probably the main thing 'Help' does as a brand - which is why the match was so perfect." "There were so many ways it could be done. We could include it as a free add-on to our products in the drugstore aisle. We could create a different product and give it away for a limited time, or we could sell it as a separate product altogether," he explains.

But by far the most compelling idea was to include the kit in a pre-existing product without altering the price. So it was agreed the marrow registry would go into existing boxes of 'Help I've Cut Myself' plasters, additionally labelled '& I Want To Save A Life'.

The Strategy

Next, Douglas secured all-important support from Delete Blood Cancer DKMS. Part of the world's largest bone marrow centre, DKMS run a national donor recruitment programme in the US, along with campaigns to raise awareness of the urgent need for donors.

"Delete Blood Cancer DKMS has a donor recruitment strategy based on patient drives, company drives, college campaigns and special projects or partnerships. All campaigns lead to increased online registrations." their Marketing Manager Greta Pakusch explains. "The appeal (of Graham's idea) was that it was unique, and involved an innovative, well-known brand creating something in a non-traditional, fun way."

Together, Douglas worked with representatives from DKMS and Help Remedies to design a marrow registry kit comprising of a simple instruction leaflet, two swabs and a pre-paid envelope with a green and white design complementary to the Help Remedies product's existing packaging.

By early 2012, the work was almost complete. To support the launch, Frank and Graham joined forces with production company Lifelong Friendship Society to make a video that could explain the idea simply and humourously. The film, 'Thank You Sharp Objects', demonstrated how drawing blood accidentally could actually help save a life.

"It was important the project did not share the lecturing tone of many product / charity partnerships," Frank explains. "So for the launch film, Graham shaved his chest and armpits and painted himself silver to play the role of a talking bloody knife."

"For something I'd thought about for so long, it was incredible how quickly it was approved," he says. "There were no hoops to jump through or bureaucracy to battle - which goes to show the power of a good idea – because people only drag their heels on things they're not sure about."

Graham Douglas 
Interim Creative Director 
Delete Blood Cancer DKMS

Impressed by his idea, Droga5 now came on board during the final pre-launch phase. And with the communications team's support, Douglas' story was distributed across mainstream media outlets nationwide and seeded online via key bloggers.  "It was a launch marketing strategy driven by necessity, as we had no marketing budget. Every dollar spent on media meant a dollar not spent on creating a kit, so all marketing communication had to be naturally social," Douglas says.

An initial run of 5,000 packets of 'Help I've Cut Myself & I Want To Save A Life' plasters were distributed at the TED conference in March 2012 and online via This was followed soon after by a second run of 50,000, distributed in store via Help Remedies' retail distribution network, and online via a dedicated web site. The launch of the 'Help I Want to Save a Life' campaign attracted widespread media interest securing coverage in outlets including USA Today and CNN. This piqued the interest of leading US pharmacies Target and CVS, who both requested the product for their stores. A resounding success...

So why did it work? "When you have a great idea based on something bigger than financial gain, people are willing to be more flexible about their practices," says Franks.

The Impact

Delete Blood Cancer DKMS saw a three-fold year on year increase in the number of new bone marrow donor registrations received within the first five months of launch. Meanwhile, sales of Help Remedies' 'Help I've Cut Myself' plasters increased by 1,900% over the same period.

Though there were only two product runs and both were exhausted in just a few weeks, the campaign generated significant media attention and also widespread praise for its creativity and innovation. Other than our D&AD White Pencil, it also scooped the Grand Prix for Good and two Gold Lions at that year's Cannes Festival, and more importantly, the campaign story is now included as a case study at Stanford University’s business school curriculum.

"I've never encountered an idea that so ingeniously breaks down the barrier of marrow donor registration," said Delete Blood Cancer DKMS' former Head of Marketing Karen Huurman at launch. "This will save lives."

D&AD Impact seeks to identify and celebrate great, transformative ideas that contribute towards a better, fairer and more sustainable future for all. If you think you have a campaign that makes a real and positive difference to the world then why not enter it into D&AD Impact.



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