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Anatomy Of A Cannes Contender: How A Poster Was Made Into A Cancer-Detection Tool

Wunderman UK CEO Chris Perry explains how a poster and ubiquitous mobile phones added up to a cancer-detection mechanism.

Retinoblastoma (RB) is an eye cancer in children. It’s a deadly, fast-growing disease, making early detection critical. British charity the Childhood Eye Cancer Trust (CHECT) and agency Wunderman created an innovative, accessible, way for parents to look for signs of the cancer in their kids, launching posters that react the same way to flash photography as a cancerous eye.

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The ads show an image of a child’s eye, but the pupil in the image was coated with an ink that reacts to camera flashes and turns white–mirroring how a cancerous eye reacts to photography.

Four posters, which feature images of children who have survived RB, appeared in GP surgeries, baby clinics and childcare centers, supported by an online film and social media campaign to raise both awareness and funds.

The posters encouraged immediate action prompting our audience to photograph the poster and then their child to test for similar signs. Their placement encouraged the next action: having children checked by a doctor if they showed a white pupil. Mobile provided the thread linking all call to actions–from seeing signs to sharing the news via social.

Here, Wunderman UK CEO Chris Perry takes us through the key stages in the creation of a simple, but powerful idea (and a sure winner in the Outdoor and Mobile categories at Cannes).

Co.Create: What was the brief?

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Perry: CHECT is a small charity with a community around it of people affected by RB in some way. As a condition, RB is not well-known–even by GPs. They asked us to help raise awareness and increase donations.

What insight led to the winning idea?

The idea for the flash photo poster came out of a joint immersion strategy we ran with the client in which we put strategists, creatives, technologists and client representatives together against the brief to iterate quickly–a way of working that’s always interesting and can sometimes be profound.

The observation that an eye with this deadly cancer looks normal but appears white as a pupil in flash photos had been made by the carer of a child with RB within the CHECT community.

Given that we take photos with our smartphones more than anything else, it means we carry the key tool for RB detection with us, all day, every day. With zero budget, our challenge was to raise awareness of this staggering insight, provoke an action, and raise the charity’s profile.


What key decisions were made in the creative and production process that made this idea stand out?

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We needed to get the campaign out there simply and with little or no funding, so we focused on Twitter, Facebook, You Tube, social communities, and press.

We set out to reach people who have or care for toddlers and babies every day–parents, caregivers friends, as well as doctors and nurses. They carry their mobile phones with them everywhere they go, and they constantly take happy snaps of the children they care for, which meant they were best-placed to see the early signs. What’s more, in the interest of saving children’s lives, they were the people who needed to hear our message the most.

To keep things simple, we utilized existing smartphone functionality to simulate eye-cancer detection without the need to install an app or be online. Mobile-activated posters asked people to take a flash photo with their smartphone to see what eye cancer looks like.

The child’s eye appeared normal on the poster, but an innovative, highly reflective ink made the pupil white in the photo. It took six months developing this to ensure not just that the posters would work with any kind of camera with a flash, but that the reflective ink we chose to use would produce the right kind of bright white.

In the end, the team opted for an ink containing small, reflective metallic flakes which reflects white when a camera’s flash hits it.


How successful was this?

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The campaign was picked up in mainstream, medical, tech, and parenting press–spreading our message to over 70 million people.

It also received 81.8k shares on Facebook and 122k shares on Twitter. Our online video garnered over 900,000 views, without any paid seeding. And one of our proudest achievements has been the international reach of the campaign.

It has generated views across all major continents, and prompted like-minded charities to get in touch and ask to run the campaign themselves, carving out a place for CHECT as a world-leading charity for retinoblastoma, as well as building and prolonging relationships with a global network.

What’s the big lesson for marketers from this success?

How a simple idea can spread across the globe through social channels and make a massive difference.

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About the author

Meg Carter is a UK-based freelance journalist who has written widely on all aspects of branding, media, marketing & creativity for a wide range of outlets including The Independent, Financial Times and Guardian newspapers, New Media Age and Wired.

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