W+K Ads Show How Stunning VR Helps People With MS Reconnect With Their Passions

A vicarious thrill

Imagine doing the thing you love the most. Then imagine you can't do it anymore, because of a debilitating disease.

That's what happened to the two multiple scelorisis sufferers featured in a new campaign from the National MS Society. With a little help from virtual reality tech—and their friends—both got a fresh taste of their old passions. 

Created by Wieden + Kennedy, one two-and-a-half minute ad features Steve Bettis, a San Diego resident who started surfing when he was 9 years old, and who continued until after he was diagnosed with MS in 2006, at age 57. 

Early in the clip, he introduces himself, now wheelchair-bound. Later, pro surfer Robert Weaver shows up at his home with a VR headset and 360-degree video he shot riding the waves—and Bettis gets closeups of the ocean in ways he hasn't experienced in 10 years. 

In the second commercial, professional dancer Amy Meisner, diagnosed in 1997, gets a chance to "return" to the stage when LaTonya Swann, winner of BET's reality competition Born to Dance, visits with a VR setup and a clip that captures their joint trade.

Gimmickry aside, it's easy to root for both Bettis and Meisner, who are appealing personalities in their own right. At the beginning of his spot, Bettis talks about how discovering his condition struck him with disbelief, but how he still repairs surfboards as a hobby—and ultimately remains upbeat and practical about his fate. 

Meisner choreographs for people with disabilities. In other words, both found ways to stay connected to their craft, even without the help of VR headgear. But the tech-driven payoffs in both ads are incredibly poignant—like the huge smile on Meisner's face as she moves her arms along with Swann's own choreography, which manages to be totally heartbreaking and truly beautiful. 

Overall, it's also a more striking use of VR than other recent efforts depicted in advertising. Samsung, for example, recently used its headgear to help millennials overcome their fears. The argument worked well enough—one young man with a fear of heights couldn't even climb the stairs to a rooftop without clinging to the rail for dear life. VR simulations helped ease that fear. 

But these MS ads somehow pack a bigger punch—perhaps because of the severity of the physiological betrayal, and the emotional robbery involved: Bettis and Meisner lived what they loved as fully as they could and lost the ability to do it fully. The genuine empathy shown by their non-disabled counterparts also lends emotional heft. 

Thus, the tagline of the videos is particularly apt: "Together we are stronger." In that spirit, a campaign website invites MS sufferers and their families to share their own personal stories about overcoming the disease, using the hashtag #WeAreStrongerThanMS.

CREDITS

Client: National MS Society

Project: "Together We Are Stronger"

Agency: Wieden + Kennedy, Portland, Ore. 

Executive Creative Directors: Joe Staples and Mark Fitzloff

Creative Directors: Caio Lazzuri and Ashley Davis-Marshall

Copywriter: Ryan Niland

Art Director: Danielle Delph

Executive Producer: Patrick Marzullo

Business Affairs: Teresa Lutz and Brian Cook

Project Manager: Carolyn Domme

Art Producer: Grace Petrenka

Studio Manager: Amy Streger

Studio Designer: Leslie Waara

Motion Designer: Daniel Moreno and McKay Marshal

Motion Producer: Sarah Gamazo

Strategy: Hailey Marsh

Account Management: Dana Borenstein and Virginia Mendes

Production Company: Tool

Director: John X. Carey

Executive Producer: Lori Stonebraker / Josh Hamilton

Line Producer: Joshua Greenberg

Director of Photography: Hilary Spera and Chris Saul

Managing Partner, Live Action / Executive Producer: Oliver Fuselier