"Is it easier to take a life, or to save one?"
That's the question posed by ad agency Grey for the Polish Red Cross in "Life After Death," a poignant, polarizing campaign in which convicted murderers take first aid classes while serving time behind bars.
Anchored by the riveting three-minute clip below, the work seeks to snap Polish citizens out of their complacency. (Some 40 percent say they would rather wait for trained professionals than attempt potentially life-saving techniques on a person in distress.) At the same time, the campaign explores deeper themes, engaging the public on their perceptions of convicted murderers who rejoin society.
"You watch a story about felons, people who committed atrocious acts. But now, thanks to first aid courses, they have an ability to do something good and a will to redeem themselves," Jakub Korolczuk, executive creative director at Grey Poland, tells AdFreak.
Hopefully, he adds, viewers will start asking hard questions, such as, "What about me, supposedly a good person, who yet can't save someone's life? Who is good here?"
"The idea came from our close relationships with the Pedagogium Foundation, which does a lot of groundbreaking rehabilitation programs, such as Freedom Tattoos," says Korolczuk. "They experimented with first aid courses for kids in juvenile detentions. We decided to take it a step further and to dramatize the notion that everyone can, and should, try to save lives."
Despite the controversial nature of the campaign, the Polish Red Cross "loved the idea from the beginning," Korolczuk goes on. "They were already conducting some courses in low-security prisons, although not for murderers, and were used to [operating under] harsh conditions."
Predictably, filming in two Warsaw penitentiaries presented some challenges.
"We needed to build trust with the convicts, which was very hard, and all the recorded dialogue happened in the last hour of the four-day shoot," Korolczuk says. "As much as we wanted to include more detailed stories, we were bound by law to keep them secret."
What's more, given Poland's strict gun-control laws, most murders were committed with axes, knives or bare hands. "Most of the crimes were very crude," Korolczuk says, so specifics were left out.
One of the convicts who took part is a contract killer for the Polish mafia, for example. The subject "wanted to take part in the course, but didn't allow for filming his face. There was a moment when the camera operator came closer to him because of how intensely he was performing CPR on a [dummy]. The guy, without raising his head or stopping the CPR, asked, 'You remember who you shouldn't film?' You can see only his silhouette in the film."
It's easy to slam the project as an example of left-leaning audience manipulation, and to criticize Grey and the Red Cross for foisting their political sentiments and notions of redemption on the public under the guise of a PSA.
"The campaign is very polarizing," Korolczuk admits, "especially in Poland, where the government and general public are for stricter prison rules and for terminating social rehabilitation programs."
That said, the emotionally extreme, politicized nature of "Life After Death" does nothing to detract from the campaign's impact. Rather, this aspect heightens its overall effect. Watching the inmates, men and women of various ages, lay their hands—once used for killing—on CPR dummies as they learn to save lives is an immensely moving and unsettling experience. Such images should stick with folks for some time.
The prisoners' statements, such as "I would like to save someone. Now, I would save them no matter what," and "If I could someday save someone's life, it would be the most wonderful thing I could ever do," may understandably sound self-serving. But given the circumstances, they carry extra weight and layers of special significance.
This transcendence helps the work fulfill its most basic mission—communicating that the Red Cross offers training in life-saving techniques—by planting profound questions in people's minds: For example, "Should I learn to save lives?" or "If I don't master CPR, and someone dies who I might have saved, does that make me a kind of murderer?" Perhaps it will even lead Poles to examine their beliefs on a range of vital issues.
Love it or hate it, the campaign has the power to make viewers mull the awesome gravity and mysterious machinations of life and death—and challenges them to choose which role they might one day play.
Agency: Grey Group Poland
Executive Creative Director: Jakub Korolczuk
Deputy Creative Director: Rafał Ryś
Senior Copywriter: Jan Cieślar
Account Manager: Agata Pamięta
Public Relations: Joanna Bednarek, Iga Toczyska
Pedagogium / Special thanks: Filip Konopczyński
Production: ShootMe Production
Producer: Michał Majewski
Head of Production: Wiktoria Michalkiewicz
Director: Marcin Filipowicz
Director of Photography: Maciek Ryter