Why Normal Ads Suddenly Looked Blurry and Hard to See on the U.K.’s Channel 4 Tonight

Clever promotion for National Eye Health Week

Channel 4 viewers, there is nothing wrong with your television sets. Do not attempt to adjust the picture.

Tonight, as part of National Eye Health Week, the British broadcaster joined with the Royal National Institute of Blind People for a series of unusual ad breaks designed to let folks experience various sight-loss conditions.

Channel 4 didn’t create entirely new commercials. Instead, the network tweaked the copy and applied filters to existing ads for Amazon Echo, Freeview, O2, Paco Rabanne and Specsavers, simulating maladies such as cataracts, glaucoma, hemianopia, macular degeneration and diabetes-related sight loss.

The approach works especially well in the Specsavers spot below. The eyewear chain’s original vision-care message gains sharper focus as the video grows progressively hazy and dark from the edges, replicating the effects of glaucoma:

“It’s great that we’ve found five brave and forward-thinking brands to work with, but we wish there were more,” David Amodio, digital and creative leader for sales at Channel 4, tells AdFreak. “Brands talk a good game when it comes to accessibility and diversity initiatives, but you’d be surprised just how hard it is once you try to push these ideas over the line.”

Fashion brand Paco Rabanne had no such qualms, and found its way clear to helping educate the public about how cataracts can cloud their vision:

Developed in-house, the altered ads aired during reality show The Undateables at 9:15 and 9.30 p.m. In the latter break, descriptive audio was added for sight-impaired viewers.

“The use of audio description across an entire ad break marks a cultural shift in advertising,” says RNIB director Sophie Castlle.

In addition to raising awareness and inspiring viewers to get regular eye exams, Channel 4 hopes other marketers will take notice “and consider improving from an accessibility point of view in the future” when creating commercials, Amodio says. “We have set ourselves an objective to make advertisers think about audiences with accessibility challenges such as hearing loss or sight loss.”

The network prides itself on social awareness and has created notable campaigns through the years. Its Cannes Grand Prix winning “We Are the Superheroes” film, promoting coverage of the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games, ranks as a prime example. In addition, Channel 4 ran “the most accessible ad break ever” during the Games, with deaf artist and actor David Ellington providing full sign-language support for spots from seven different sponsors.

Such efforts take a level of cooperation, coordination and trust that transcends typical media buying and planning. But Channel 4 believes the resulting awareness—for good causes, the network and its brand partners—is well worth the extra effort.

For the RNIB push, “the initial idea was actually to completely black out the ads and go with full audio description for a more dramatic effect,” Amodio says. However, “once we started to discuss the variation of eye conditions, we decided that covering a variety was a more effective communication.”


Channel 4:
David Amodio, Digital & Creative Leader
Charlotte Rowland, Creative Strategist
Michelle Pierre, Group Special Projects Manager

Agency Partners:
Havas Group (O2, Paco Rabanne)
Initiative (Amazon Echo)
MEC (Freeview)
Manning Gottlieb OMD (Specsavers)

Each brand donated 10 percent of its production fee to the RNIB in support of National Eye Health Week.

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@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.