Ad of the Day: BBDO Gets 3 Clients to Make One Autism PSA Unlike Any You’ve Seen

They look like ordinary product ads, and that's the point

Headshot of Tim Nudd

As Autism Awareness Month comes to a close, BBDO New York has unveiled an interesting, ambitious project in which it got three clients—Band-Aid, Campbell's Soup and AT&T—to produce 15-second product ads that subtly combine into one PSA about the importance of early diagnosis.

The series, which aired Monday morning during CNN's New Day, opens with a 15-second spot for Autism Speaks—showing a family with their son at the doctor and then at home. "Learn the early signs of autism today. Because an early diagnosis can make a lifetime of difference," says a voiceover.

That's followed by what appear to be 15-second product spots for Band-Aid, Campbell's and AT&T. We see the same family from the Autism Speaks spot engaged in different domestic scenarios as the years go by. (The parents are played by the same people, while the boy is portrayed by different actors.) The ads, and the family, seem to be completely normal—and that's the whole point. Early diagnosis can lead to a normal family life, much like the kind seen in ordinary commercials for big brands.

"You just saw how early diagnosis can make a lifetime of difference," says the onscreen copy after the four spots air.

Further reinforcing the point is the casting. The boy in the AT&T spot is Reece Bowen, a first-time actor who has autism. And the father in all four spots is Reece's real dad. (There's a short interview with both of them at the end of the YouTube version of the series.)

The campaign points to

It's a high-concept idea, and there's also a high degree of difficulty in the execution. You have four different scenes in four different time periods for four different brands—yet all of them are meant to effortlessly function as one in embodying (rather than relating) a noncommercial message the viewer isn't expecting.

That's a lot of moving parts, and a lot to ask of the viewer, which may be why the finished piece in some ways feels more conceptual than natural.

Still, kudos to BBDO and its clients for the innovative creative and media play.

"With April being Autism Awareness month, we were looking for a way to dramatically tell this story," says Greg Hahn, chief creative officer at BBDO New York. "We found it through a partnership with our brilliant clients who eagerly embraced the convention-breaking, innovative spirit of the idea. The result is an ad that's like the Super Friends of public education messages."

Superheroic or not, it is always nice to see brands—and now, even their product spots—coming together for a higher purpose.

@nudd Tim Nudd is a former creative editor of Adweek.