Inside Sport England's latest campaign encouraging people with long-term illnesses to get active

Sport England has followed up on the success of its ‘This Girl Can’ campaign with ’We Are Undefeatable’ - a campaign made in collaboration with 15 charities that intends to inspire people with long-term illnesses to do more physical activity.

Among the 15 charities that worked on the project are the MS Society, Mind, Alzheimer's Society, Asthma UK, British Red Cross and Diabetes UK.

In a similar vein to previous campaigns created by FCB Inferno, the new work puts the spotlight on real people but has taken a different approach to the Cannes award winning This Girl Can campaign, which captured the funny reality of exercise for ordinary people.

This time, the subject matter is more raw and heart-wrenching, targeting a plethora of illnesses that differ in severity, while covering multiple ethnicities in the 30+ age range.

The Drum goes behind the scenes to uncover how Sport England crafted the national ad campaign to sensitively broadcast the ‘untold story.’

Finding the untold story

Sport England's chief executive Tim Hollingsworth says the national campaign forms part of a longer-term drive by the government body to change cultural and social norms around long-term health conditions and physical activity.

Sport England originally approached the Richmond Group and a number of other charities that we were already working with, to talk about physical activity in general, including Age UK, Alzheimer's Society, Macmillan Cancer Support, Mind, and British Red Cross.

Motivated by a piece of research it conducted in 2017, Sarah Ruane, national strategy lead for health at Sport England says they decided to focus on the benefits of physical activity for people with health conditions.

“What became apparent was there was an untold story around the importance of physical activity for those living with long-term illnesses,” explains Ruane. "We felt the need to tell honest stories about what it's really like living with a health condition, and how getting active can help."

The study found that individuals living with a long-term health conditions are twice as likely to be inactive - 42% of people were found to be inactive, versus only 24% of non-disabled people.

We Are Undefeatable

Injecting funding from the National Lottery, Sport England began to collaborate on the campaign with 15 health and social care groups, including Richmond Group charities.

A fresh Sport England survey of over 1,000 adults revealed that people with long-standing health concerns felt they face some unique barriers, with over one third citing a lack of energy holds them back. It also found 69% of the 15 million UK citizens suffering from a long-term health condition (one in four) say they would like to be more active.

After consulting numerous focus groups on the idea, Sport England briefed FCB Inferno create a national TV campaign.

"The 'We Are Undefeatable' tagline was developed based off our key insight - regardless of their condition, our audience had good days and bad ones, and these are unpredictable," explains Sarah Lefkowith, creative director at FCB.

"We needed a line that encouraged our audience in their high moments and through their lows."

Underlining the 'able' in 'undefeatable' on the campaign works to show that the ability of sufferers to keep on going.

To choose what stories to share, Sport England went through a rigorous process. "We approached the charities, and they put the word out to try to find people who could be honest about their stories, and the realities living with a long-term condition."

The people they chose to feature in the work were involved in its development from the initial research right to the design of the campaign films.

All films were produced with Knucklehead and directed by JJ Augustavo, who traveled from California to be part of the shoot. They started storyboarding various scenes for the films, where the real-life cast will show what active actually looks like for those with health conditions, including the unconventional exercises they might do and both the struggles and successes they experience.

The outcome is a heart-wrenching montage of people partaking in various activities to stay fit, set to a cover of Sinatra's classic record - 'That's Life.'

The spot includes a young woman in a wheelchair, who doesn't allow her legs to prevent her from dancing. In another vignette. a girl with respiratory problems is seen inhaling, before heading out for a determined jog along a lake.

In another, a team of old men play touch football, slowly but surely. In another episode an old man works out using a playground gym, while a mother and daughter play Just Dance to keep fit.

Throughout, little clues point to their various illnesses including a card that reads ‘straight out of chemo’ and a man seen injecting himself with insulin.

But what’s important is the film shows all the different ways of staying active that doesn’t involve doing ‘exercise’ at the gym.

“The word exercise can feel unachievable and unattainable because they don't see it as something to support them,” explains Ruane. Instead, she believes when you start talking about physical activity and moving, it feels more manageable - something anyone can fit into their life.

It also shows how unconventional exercises can help - it's about finding what works for you, even if it’s just putting the shopping away in an expressive way.

They also planned out 14 social films that give a candid insight into the individual lives of the real people suffering from health conditions, created to act as mini-documentaries. The films use additional and self-filmed footage; giving viewers a real view of their experiences, in a raw and honest way.

In one film, 73 year-old shares his golden rule in life: "Stay alive for as long as possible because you never know what's around the corner."

He tells the tale of his football team which includes players from the age of 60 to 80 and beyond, and how he and four men always meet up for bacon rolls ahead of every football match.

"There's something wrong with just about all of us," he chuckles before revealing that he has a cancer called Hodgkin Lymphoma. He goes onto detail how his health has got better by keeping active by playing football.

In another short film, Simone tells her story. Born with a congenital heart defect, she explains how she suffered a stroke when she was only 19. She now tries to walk two miles every day.

"For this campaign we needed to deliver more than just a gut-punch of confidence," explains FCB's Lefkowith. "We needed to show vulnerability and admit that sometimes, things really can hold people back."

Built around an uplifting but nuanced attitude, We Art Undefeatable is honest and funny – which she think "results in a fundamentally human body of work.

Amplified by a national £3m campaign that has been planned by Manning Gottlieb OMD, the films will run across TV, radio, social media encouraging people to visit the new website. It also encourages viewers to follow the hashtag #WeAreUndefeatable for inspiration and ideas on how to get active in ways that suit them.

The website includes a range of resources to help people become active in whatever way works for them, at whatever levels of activity.

Alongside this, 'We Are Undefeatable' support packs are also being distributed to every GP surgery and community pharmacy in England as part of a wider programme to support healthcare professionals to promote physical activity to their patients.

Sport England will repeat its survey at the end of October and November and track a cross-section of people for six months to measure whether there has been a shift in audience perceptions and behaviours.

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