• 03.28.17

This Groundbreaking Amphibious Prosthetic Leg Is Actually An Ad For Healthcare

How Northwell and agency JWT New York focused on creating a brand act over a brand ad, and ended up with innovation that helps people.

This Groundbreaking Amphibious Prosthetic Leg Is Actually An Ad For Healthcare

Two weeks ago, a story in The New York Times introduced us to Dan Lasko, a 34-year-old Afghanistan war veteran, as he first got in the pool to test The Fin, a first of its kind custom-fitted 3D-printed prosthetic leg created for amputees to go straight from land into the water and back. Lasko’s goal was to swim with his kids, without the hassle or challenge of hopping around a pool deck on one leg. For him, this piece of 3D engineering was going to be a life changer.


What we didn’t find out in this earlier story is that The Fin is actually a brand marketing project created for Northwell Health by agency JWT New York.

The development of this new amphibious prosthetic was spearheaded by JWT New York and Northwell Health’s venture arm, Northwell Ventures, which brought together a prosthetic design firm and a commercial-grade 3D-manufacturing company to tackle this problem for so many amputees. Now the agency has launched a short doc on the entire process called “The Return.”

According to the agency, the goal was to take Northwell beyond brand ads, and instead create a brand act that put a spotlight on Northwell’s capabilities, while also contributing to its stated mission to raise the standard of health care. JWT New York executive creative director Ben James says they were asked to generate an emotional connection between the system and the public, through Northwell’s unique way of looking at healthcare.

“We wanted to create something that embodied the brand, a way to demonstrate their willingness to work across silos and consider ideas from anywhere,” says James. “Given our experience with the healthcare system and from witnessing their approach firsthand, we knew they had incredible expertise in 3D printing, a world class Military and Veterans’ Liaison Services program, and a willingness to consider ideas from anywhere in the system. We created a story, and asked the healthcare system to become players in that story: the search for a prosthetic solution to return a veteran to something they used to do before leaving for war.”

James says the agency identified the need that prosthetics could go further, and the experts across the system who could help them solve something unique. “Then we dove deeper into the world of veterans to find a specific challenge,” says James. “Most notably, there’s isn’t any sort of amphibious leg prosthetic that allows a wearer to embrace land and aquatic activities – so we set about to change that. We pitched the idea to the team and they immediately bought it.”

The clutter of brand marketing across the media landscape means marketers must find ever-more creative ways to stand out, and to do that–from B-Corp brands like Patagonia and Ben & Jerry’s, to even Domino’s convenience-driven tech–more brands are embracing the idea of doing over just talking.


James says The Fin is a test of the idea that actions speak louder than words. “We feel incredibly inspired by and and privileged to work with a brand like Northwell,” he says. “This entire process was a test of their willingness to breakthrough boundaries. And they came through. Authenticity wins.”

About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity. He lives in Toronto.