Harrowing PSA Depicts Life With ALS More Effectively Than Any Ice Bucket Challenge

MMB campaign puts a human face on the disease

Only 2% of the 17 million "ice bucket" videos led to donations. The ALS Association
Headshot of Patrick Coffee

Do you remember a viral craze called “the ice bucket challenge?”

It was truly a charity campaign for the social media age. Every celebrity, semi-celebrity and wannabe celebrity participated (including one Mark Zuckerberg). Most brands also found a way to join in the generous fun.

Yet, while the effort won two highly coveted Gold Lions at Cannes in 2015, some may ask, looking back, how much it served to educate the public about the topic at hand: ALS, also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig’s Disease, for the Yankees star who first made it famous.

Only 2 percent of the approximately 17 million related videos in the ice bucket series led directly to a donation, according to advocacy group The ALS Association.

That’s why Boston creative agency MMB, which currently counts the ALS Association as a client, took a very different route. Its new campaign looks to humanize the condition by illustrating challenges faced by the estimated 20,000 Americans living with ALS at any given time.

This powerful short—and the two others in the series—were filmed on location in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Connecticut with real-life individuals affected by ALS.

“ALS is a devastating and cruel disease that takes away everything—the ability to walk, to talk, to breathe. By showing people an honest look at the stakes families living with the disease face every day, we hope to encourage them to join our fight for better treatments and a cure,” said Calaneet Balas, president and CEO of The ALS Association.

Each of the three shorts has a unique theme. The first, “Little Things,” concerns a woman’s efforts to retain her femininity despite the disease’s influence. The second, “A Few Words,” introduces viewers to a couple working to maintain their relationship as ALS affects his ability to show affection.

The last and possibly most affecting illustrates, in heartbreaking detail, how the condition can interfere with that most basic of relationships between parent and child.

It is, as the campaign’s own press release indicates, “difficult to watch, and intentionally so.”

“This project was incredibly important to us. ALS is such a mean-spirited disease, and we haven’t  seen that reality conveyed often enough,” said MMB ecd Travis Robertson. “Aside from the obvious physical implications, there are emotional implications to ALS that trickle down through the entire family circle. These spots seek to capture that in a way that is both cinematic and brutally self-aware.”

The ads will run throughout May, which is ALS Awareness Month.


Agency: MMB
Client: ALS Association
Campaign: “A Harsh Reality”

Executive Creative Director: Travis Robertson, Greg Almeida
Director: Elle Ginter
Production Company: Sanctuary Content
Executive Producer: Preston Lee, Sanctuary Content
Director of Production: Sara Ventetuolo
Executive Producer: Michael Michaud
Art Director: Travis Robertson, Jen Campbell
Copywriter: Greg Almeida, John Geany
Senior Account Director: Jonathan Greeley
Business Affairs: Kim Noke
Editor: Kenji Yamauchi, Charlie Johnston | Lost Planet Editorial, Inc.
Sound Design/Mix: Mike Secher |The Soundtrack Group, Boston
Color: Sophie Borup |Company 3

Music: “Little Things”:
“Ode” Written and Performed by Nils Frahm Published by Manners McDade
Courtesy of Erased Tapes Records Ltd.
Music: “Few Words”
“Choice” Written and performed by Gustavo Santaolalla
By arrangement with Sony Interactive Entertainment, America
Music: “Good Night”
Credit: Human Music Worldwide
“Few Words” Book:
Goodnight Moon written by Margaret Wise Brown
Goodnight Moon Copyright (c) 1947 and Renewal Copyright (c) 1975
Used with permission Courtesy of Harper Collins Publishers

@PatrickCoffee patrick.coffee@adweek.com Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.