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Tokyo 2020 Paralympics: Channel 4 excels again emphasizing ‘human’ over ‘super’

With the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games almost here, Channel 4 has presented its anticipated Superhuman campaign, which captures the blood, sweat, sacrifices and dedication it takes to make it.

To be a Paralympian, there’s got to be something wrong with you. This is the premise of this year’s Channel 4 Tokyo 2020 Paralympic campaign, which serves as a more gritty look at the trials and tribulations of competing at the Games for these ‘Super. Humans’.

“We spotted an opportunity to present Paralympians in a way they hadn’t been shown before – by pointing a camera at the realities of their lives and, as with any elite athlete, the sacrifices they make in pursuit of greatness,” explains Lynsey Atkin, 4Creative’s exec creative director, on capturing the blood, sweat, sacrifices and dedication it takes.

“Whether that’s defying medical advice, missing c­­hildren’s birthdays, anxiety, repetition, getting endless blisters – collectively these choices paint a story of mental determination, not of disability.”

Set to a freshly-recorded version of Bugsy Malone’s So You Want to Be a Boxer? by Jay Prince, the film candidly shows various British Paralympians preparing for Tokyo, including Ali Jawad, David Smith, Ellie Simmonds, Jody Cundy, Jordanne Whiley, Kadeena Cox and Kylie Grimes.

Bradford Young, the Oscar-nominated cinematographer who made ‘Super. Human’, claims it wasn’t the super element that spoke to him but the human stories. “It’s what makes us vulnerable, but stronger too. But where we differ is where this film comes alive – the standards to which a Paralympian holds themselves to, a ruthless, grinding obsessiveness, a tunnel vision we wouldn’t dare enter.”

To ensure the ad is authentic, 4Creative worked closely with the athletes, who helped to write the script. “Everything you see in the film was inspired by real-life experiences of the Paralympians featured, all of whom generously shared their stories with us. Bradford brought the cinematic vision to the development process, with his talent for unique, emotive visual storytelling,” insists Atkin.

As well as working closely with British Paralympians, 4Creative also liaised with the International Paralympic Committee, the British Paralympics Association and Scope, all of whom provided invaluable insight and guidance in shaping the campaign.

With the Olympics being postponed due to the pandemic, the ad has been in development for 18 months and was filmed in mid-May over a period of two weeks.

Channel 4 first won the UK broadcast rights for the London 2012 Paralympic Games following a competitive pitch. That marked the first time a not-for-profit company had bid for it. Since then, it has excelled at promoting the Paralympics like any other global sports event.

This is noted by Andrew Parsons, international Paralympic committee president, who insists Channel 4 sets the benchmark “for how all other broadcasters around the world cover the Paralympics, not just in terms of Games-time coverage and the diversity of on-screen talent, but with regards to engagement and promotion”.

Tasked with delivering the strongest pre-Games broadcast coverage and marketing support the Paralympics had ever received on UK television, Channel 4’s first ‘Meet the Superhumans’ work was instrumental in putting the Paralympics on to the world stage.

As a public service broadcaster, it had a remit set by parliament to champion diversity and alternative points of view, meaning the broadcast rights came with a number of commitments to increase public engagement and involvement in Paralympic sport.

It followed ‘Meet the Superhumans’ with ‘We’re The Superhumans’ to promote the Rio Paralympics in 2016. The ad focused on how much excitement you can generate if you cram the talent of 140 athletes, musicians and ordinary people into three minutes of showtime.

“Following the last two Paralympics adverts was no small task – they exploded attitudes around disability and became a part of our National Curriculum,” admits Atkin.

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