Ogilvy Had People With ALS Make ‘Robocalls’ to Congress to Help Pass the Steve Gleason Act

Turning a familiar tactic around on politicians

Gleason, a former NFL player, was diagnosed with ALS in 2011. Team Gleason

Many people battling amyotrophic laterals sclerosis—ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, a degenerative neuromuscular disease—lose their ability to speak.

Steve Gleason, diagnosed with ALS in 2011, shortly after he retired from an eight-year career with the NFL’s New Orleans Saints, made sure their voices are heard, particularly in Congress, thanks in part to an innovative campaign developed by Ogilvy.

This morning, President Trump signed into law a bipartisan budget package that includes the Steve Gleason Enduring Voices Act. That measure guarantees that Medicare will permanently pay for speech-generation technology to help ALS sufferers communicate, work and continue to make vital contributions to society.

To nudge lawmakers to support the measure, and demonstrate the power of such communications devices, Gleason worked with Ogilvy on “Robocalls From Humans.” Through that initiative, the former safety, and others with ALS, used eye-tracking technology to phone legislators and make their case.

As the project video below points out, many politicians use robocalls to reach voters. So, it seemed fitting for those living with ALS to make an appeal to Congress using the automated voices generated by the technology whose funding hung in the balance.

Some congressional staffers hung up almost as soon as the computerized tones began. But the callers were persistent, and their message was powerful:

Hello. Please do not hang up. I may sound like a robot, but I am a real person … I have been living with ALS for 10 years. The disease has taken away my ability to speak naturally. But thanks to eye-tracking technology and a voice generator, I still have a way to communicate with the world. But what if I told you I was in danger of losing access to my voice? The Steve Gleason Enduring Voices Act helps ensure I will always have affordable technology covered by Medicare. So I can continue to communicate with the people I love and live with purpose.

In addition to this direct outreach, the video led users to a website, KeepMyVoice.com, with an eye-tracking technology demo that could be used to create messages asking members of Congress for their support.

“First and foremost, we wanted people with ALS to use the technology they risked losing to show Congress how much it matters,” says Ogilvy associate creative director Samantha Gorelik. “Getting things passed through Congress right now can be very challenging, so we needed a unique approach. Our robo-calling technique, and including the man behind the Act, helped this legislation get the attention it desperately needed.”

Gleason himself spoke up via Facebook on Tuesday, after the U.S. House of Representatives passed the bill, his resolution and strength of spirit ringing loud and clear.

“I believe our nation has the infrastructure and funds to provide technology for people who truly have no other voice,” he said. “This is not an entitlement bill, it’s an empowerment bill, for people who want to be productive citizens. People with extreme disabilities need to communicate and be productive, and this Bill ensures access to that ability.”

This morning, once the bill became law, Gleason voiced his heartfelt thanks in a tweet:

Agency: Ogilvy & Mather
Joe Sciarrotta, Co-Chief Creative Officer
David Hernandez, Executive Creative Director
Sam Spratlin, Creative Director
Tim Hogan, Creative Director
Estee Mathes, Associate Creative Director
Samantha Gorelik, Associate Creative Director
Mike Diedrich, Executive Producer
Alexandria Frenkel, Producer
Corby Dodge, Producer
Chris Mines, Senior Editor
Matt Golin, Senior Editor
Vince Smolucha, Executive Technology Director
Stephanie Burchinow, Project Manager
Matt Andrade, Senior Developer
Zack Pirrello, Developer
Tracy J. Lee, Designer
Mary Fran Wiley, UX Art Director
Abby Inman, Account Supervisor
Katlin Bole, Strategic Planner
Passion Jackson, Account Director, PR
Brad Silber, Vice President, PR
Joe Griffin, Audio Engineer
Jason Schettler, Executive Producer

Client: Team Gleason
Steve Gleason, Founder
Clare Durrett, Managing Director

Production Company: Joinery
Paul Dektor, Director
Mark Dektor, DP
Russel Sher, Producer

@DaveGian davegia@hotmail.com David Gianatasio is a longtime contributor to Adweek, where he has been a writer and editor for two decades. Previously serving as Adweek's New England bureau chief and web editor, he remains based in Boston.