Embrace Life

At this point in my career, I never expected to be credited as the Executive Producer nor running the marketing programme for something as big as ‘Embrace Life‘. Sure, you can hope, but there’s often a gulf between hopes and reality.

This is a project that came about through everything being in the right place at the right time, and has grown because of the incredible vision and outstanding dedication of the film’s Writer/Director, Daniel Cox, and the Producer, Sarah Alexander.

The background story is one of pure synchronicity. I’d had a meeting with my team to lay out the projects that we wanted to look at in the next quarter. Being in the business of road safety/behavioural change, we knew what style of communications we wanted: something different, adventurous, effective and challenging. Something that was right for our audience and would help us to open up the conversation.

On the same day, we received an email from film director Daniel Cox, who was keen to talk to us about creating something positive. My Communications Officer had previously worked for the BBC and had interviewed Daniel when he won one of his ’60 Second of Fame’ BAFTA awards.

Our initial meeting with Daniel ended up with a meeting of minds and the feeling of ‘I want to work with this guy’. A rare thing indeed, but experience has taught me that when it happens, to follow it.

In this meeting, Daniel had a ‘ping’ moment which resulted in the creation of ‘Embrace Life‘. The film is entirely his vision – and it’s been breathtaking to watch how this has translated onto the screen. Have a look – there’s no car, there’s no seat belt, there’s no crash. And yet this is a road safety ad that has been viewed over 2.9million times in five weeks (and climbing).

This is something that we couldn’t have expected, and almost didn’t dare hope for. Originally, we wanted something to run on local cinema screens, on my workplace’s website, and on DVDs at educational interventions within our county. We never dreamed that the campaign would touch so many people.

There was the sense of ‘something special’ on viewing the early rushes for the project. The team Sarah had gathered through her contacts were completely committed to the project, and the addition of the Phantom HD camera allowed Daniel to express his vision precisely the way that it was in his head.

By this point, it was becoming clear that had we not been discussing what we wanted to do over the next quarter, had Daniel not emailed on that very day, had my Communications Officer not known Daniel previously and vouched for his skill and integrity before our first meeting, had we not had the faith that our audience was ready for ‘something different’, ‘Embrace Life‘ may never have happened.

The channels

In order to market this film, it was obvious that social media was the way forward. We wanted the viewer to be able to enter a discussion about the film and its core message – and we had to set the conditions to create this conversation.

Prior to launch, specific media and creative outlets were targeted with a DM campaign (thermochromatic postcards with a cryptic message) leading them to the ‘Embrace Life’ website (, which at this point, simply showed a countdown timer and logo. As hoped, key influencers then started promulgating the web address through social media channels, tapping their networks to see if anyone knew about this project.

Localised outdoor advertising gave nothing away and pointed the consumer again at the website, offering no more information. Even the website’s registration details were transferred out so that no-one could link it back initially to us.

Then there came the opportunity to tie the product into the local street scene. Forming a strategic partnership with Brighton & Hove City Council gave us access to graffiti artist Aroe, who began covering up unsightly tags around the city with the project’s logo/URL – up to 20 feet high in some cases.

One of the graffiti sites
24 feet hight...
There was also a public space art gallery in a disused shop in Horsham, West Sussex. Visitors were presented with the existing web front page on a large plasma screen, props from the film and stills – all designed to give nothing away. Children were encouraged to interact by drawing a picture of what made them feel safe, and then adding it to the wall. By the end of the installation, the walls were covered with children’s drawings, and their parents had gone away with a flier pushing them to the website.

We took the decision not to set up a Facebook group to promote ‘Embrace Life‘ – but this was done for us after launch by one impressed viewer to took it on herself to ramp up the pressure to get the piece on national broadcast. When the audience starts doing your work for you, you know you’ve hit on something special.

The conversation

Utilising social media to drive the campaign forward allowed us to do what we’d wanted all along – open up a conversation.

My team and I are now able to interact with people in a whole new way through a conversation which our audience started themselves, through Facebook, through Twitter and through the blogosphere. We are able to use their spaces – the ones that they feel most comfortable with and have invited us into – to engage and deepen both our understanding of their hopes/fears when using the roads and develop our brand cache in their minds.

One of the most important aspects of this, for me, has been the ability to personally thank contributors through Facebook/Twitter for their engagement with the film – and this has enabled deeper conversations to take place. The web can be a soulless place at times – you spend your valuable time commenting on someone else’s creation/thoughts and they don’t bother to reply. This is something that we wanted to avoid as far as humanly possible.

Two way traffic should be the lifeblood of any brand communications – and ‘Embrace Life‘ has allowed us to open up these spaces to hold that conversation.

The Evaluation

Being in the business of creating behavioural change means that there’s no true measure of ROI – “You can’t prove the lives you’ve saved, only the ones you haven’t” as a colleague said recently.

Additionally, there’s no ‘bottom line’ (financially) for our business to measure.

In a year’s time, we’ll be able to compare the death/serious injury rates on our roads and that might give us an insight. But if you look on YouTube, there are people who have admitted – off their own backs – that the film affected them to the point where they wanted to buckle up for the first time.

If we can save just one life, then the ROI is truly immeasurable.

We can, however, look at ROI generators and have been since the start of the campaign. Some highlights include:

Shown at Ted.Com conference immediately prior to James Cameron
Broadcast on CNN with an interview with Daniel
Promoted by Ze Frank through his blog
Broadcast on local TV
500+ blog entries that we know about
2900+ comments on YouTube – mostly positive
8th top rated film of all time on the whole of YouTube
3900+ members in the Facebook group
Covered in the Metro (D&AD Page), El Pais, NYC Daily, Hollywood Reporter, ABC Nyheter
25+ international broadcast rights requests from countries including the USA, Latvia, France, the Arabian Gulf and Canada to name but a few.

This is just a selection of the coverage we’ve had – and it’s hard to calculate the true ROI. Could you pay Ze Frank to promote something through his blog? How much would three airs of the segment on CNN cost? Can you buy inclusion at one of the world’s most exclusive conferences?

Suffice to say, the quality of the product and effectiveness of the promotion has delivered almost priceless ROI – especially when you consider the uplift in traffic to my work’s own website: between four and ten time the pre-‘Embrace Life‘ daily average…

As I’ve said, we won’t know for a year (more likely three to even out any ‘blips’ and give a true trend) if ‘Embrace Life‘ has made individuals reassess their use of the seatbelt and thus made an impression on our casualty rates. But what we do know is that this project, which came together with the right team on the right day and with the right message, seems to have come along at the right time.

It just goes to show the power of a great idea, and a brilliant execution.

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