World’s best ads ever #27: Channel 4 becomes home of Paralympics with ‘Meet the Superhumans’
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In 2019, we named it our campaign of the decade. What’s remarkable today is just how moving Channel 4’s ‘Meet the Superhumans’ still is, 10 years down the line.
From a 2022 vantage point, it’s hard to imagine that Channel 4 hasn’t always been the home of the Olympics – or indeed the UK broadcaster that most keenly champions issues affecting disabled people. But that was the position in 2012, when it won the broadcast rights from the incumbent, the BBC.
The launch campaign had a job to do. First, bring viewers over to Channel 4. Second, convince them that the Paralympics was worth watching – before the event, only 14% of the UK population said they were looking forward to it. And third, as a public broadcaster, it had a parliament-mandated responsibility to increase public engagement and involvement with the Games.
Produced by in-house creative team 4Creative, the spot does all that in 90 seconds and has set the tone for Channel 4’s Paralympic output ever since. Visceral images of Paralympic struggle and triumph are intercut at the half-way mark with a brief collage of a battlefield explosion, an upsetting pre-natal scan, and a car overturning. It’s a five-second interruption that recontextualizes the entire ad and makes absolutely clear its argument that superhumans are born in the toughest moments and on the long roads that follow.
Alongside bona fide Paralympic legends such as Ellie Simmonds, one of the ad’s true stars is its soundtrack: Public Enemy’s pure-dopamine Harder Than You Think. Surely among the most perfect song placements in ad history, it has become the de facto theme tune of UK Paralympics coverage, introducing every broadcast (and sister show The Last Leg) since 2012.
There aren’t many more-lauded UK ads in recent years: a D&AD Black Pencil; a Golden Lion at Cannes Lions (just missing out on the Grand Prix to Australian railway safety campaign Dumb Ways to Die); and plaudits from bigwigs across the industry. More importantly, it did what needed to be done: nearly 12 million viewers watched the opening ceremony after 87% of people who saw the spot decided to tune in.
Making the Paralympics the face of superhumanity and Channel 4 the face of the Paralympics, ‘Meet the Superhumans’ subsequently become the first part in a trilogy for successive Games: 2016 brought the joyfully exuberant ‘We’re the Superhumans’ (which we dug into in the documentary above), while the delayed 2020 Paralympics in 2021 gave us the cheeky, big-budget ‘Super.Human’.