Ad of the Day: St. John Ambulance

A man survives cancer, then tragedy strikes, in BBH's shocking new spot

Few things build sympathy for a character quite like a battle with cancer. Such a battle encompasses three-quarters of this hard-hitting new PSA from BBH London for St. John Ambulance—beginning with a man's diagnosis and continuing through his recovery. But then, without warning, tragedy strikes.

The whole point of this spot is to blindside people, so we won't spoil the plot. Suffice it to say, the irony of the film's final frames serves as a reminder that the most exhaustive medical care can sometimes amount to nothing without knowledge of the simplest treatments around—a lesson the viewer learns the hard way, having traveled, with the patient, some treacherous terrain (the spot is nothing if not emotionally manipulative), only to get pushed off a cliff when safety seemed most imminent.

The PSA, which broke Sunday in Britain during the season 3 premiere of Downton Abbey (sorry, U.S. viewers will have to wait until January for that), is nicely shot by director Benito Montorio, who also did last year's wonderful KFC backyard-picnic spot, likewise through BBH. The captivating music is a spare piano-and-vocals version of Australian singer Sia's 2010 track "I'm in Here." The cancer plot also isn't as gratuitious as it first seems—cancer statistics are at the core of the final message here, even if the PSA is about something else entirely.

This agency and client are no strangers to ambushing viewers, as this cinema stunt from 2010 proved. But, as gloomy as they are, shock tactics make sense for these campaigns, given that the issue is so invisible to the public, particularly compared the Big C and other more pressing medical concerns.

Few "gotcha" PSAs are as expertly made as this one. Let's hope it makes a difference.


Client: St John Ambulance

Director of Marketing, Communications and Fundraising: Scott Jacobson

Campaign: Helpless

Agency: BBH, London

BBH Creative Team: Dan Morris & Charlene Chandrasekaran

BBH Creative Director: Matt Doman & Ian Heartfield

BBH Producer: Matthew Towell

BBH Team Manager: Katie Beevers

BBH Team Director: Emma Brooker

BBH Strategist: Carl Mueller

BBH Strategic Business Lead: Ann-Marie Costelloe

Production Company: Blink

Director: Benito Montorio

Executive Producer: James Studholme, James Bland

Producer: Josh Barwick

DoP: Federico Alfonzo

Post Production: MPC – Jean Clemont

Editor/Editing House: Andy McGraw

Sound: Will Cohen, Factory Studios

Recommended articles