Published: 7 February 2017

Repositioning Arthritis Research UK: from pure research to everyday freedom

Image: ARUK

Arthritis doesn’t kill you, but for 10 million people in the UK it attacks what it means to live.

Arthritis is isolating, painful and exhausting. But the huge impact of these conditions is hidden. People with arthritis are more likely to hide their arthritis, to keep it to themselves, than tell the people around them of the pain and discomfort they’re experiencing.

It places limits on people’s lives and takes away their ability to do the things they love most. Arthritis Research UK want all this to change.

From research to everyday freedom 

The charity decided it was time to widen out from its historic focus on medical scientific research. Those vital projects will still be funded, but it want to do more to help people with arthritis right now. 

By partnering with IBM’s Watson (a cognitive technology combining AI with analytical software to answer questions like a human), and building new support and advice services, it can help people living with arthritis break free from the limits these conditions cause.

The challenge for Arthritis Research UK was to overcome low awareness even among people with arthritis, and to make itself relevant beyond its ‘medical research funder’ image.

Together with the charity in a series of co-creative workshops, we concocted numerous brand positioning territories and built a picture of what life was like living with arthritis. We eventually tested three positioning options with its audiences. It focused on science, on pushing back the limits of arthritis, and on placing the charity at the centre of a movement. 

During the research we heard stories of daily struggles and challenges, and people spoke of how it was often the little things that really mattered. Some just wanted to pick up their grandchildren again, whilst others hoped to walk to the shops down the road without pausing to let the pain die down.

It wanted everyday freedom: A tangible, real hope for today. Not a distant, desperate hope for the future.

‘Everyday freedom from the limits of arthritis’ became the cornerstone of its new brand positioning. A statement that resonated across all audiences, and most importantly across people with every degree of severity of arthritis. 

This represented a major shift for the charity. People with arthritis are now front and centre, and their experiences are having a light shone on them. The charity still talks about its exceptional science as this is what brings it trust. But now, every mention of research is twinned with how that research improves the lives of the millions of people living with arthritis. 

Putting everyday freedom into practice

Arthritis Research UK wanted its new visual identity to embody every bit of its new positioning. 

The new identity has all the hallmarks of a large, modern, inspirational charity with an icon and visual brand that stands for everyday freedom. 

The ‘A’ icon is active. People move beyond their arthritis as they move beyond the ‘A’, pushing back the limits these conditions place on their lives. The visual style is positive and empowering, giving agency to the unheard voices of millions of people with arthritis. 

The identity needed to give the charity the authority to speak directly and strongly to a policy audience whilst also standing out in a crowd, whether sprinting down the Mall or popping up on a desktop. 

But crucially it also had to speak with empathy and sensitivity to people with arthritis, giving them the confidence that their condition mattered.

The brand was created to embody an organisation whose head is in science but whose heart is with the people of all different ages and backgrounds who live with arthritis. 

In short, the new brand enables Arthritis Research UK to become the charity that people with arthritis deserve.

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Max shared Arthritis Research UK’s story at our future of public engagement conference

Max du Bois, executive director, Spencer du Bois

With over 25 years of not for profit, government, social enterprise, b2b and b2c experience, Max helps people find out what matters and communicate what really counts. Helping good people do great things, Max builds brands that challenge attitudes, change minds and inspire action.