Creating an authentic charity video based on real-life stories can be a powerful way to raise awareness, even with limited resources. By utilising the stories of those impacted by your cause, you can create a compelling and meaningful campaign that resonates with your audience.
At Children with Cancer UK, we launched a brand awareness campaign with a video centred on celebrating childhood milestones. Our aim was to creatively mark our re-brand and a new era for the charity while demonstrating the highs and lows of a childhood cancer journey. The film is about children but targeted at adults – we wanted to employ a strong sense of nostalgia for childhood to create an emotional impact.
We are a medium-sized organisation, and this was our first run of a brand campaign. We wanted to use an original concept that was still true to our values of sharing genuine and authentic childhood cancer stories. Therefore, we identified and utilised our most important relationships as a charity: the families we support and who in turn support us.
Here’s how we did it…
Taking inspiration from precious memories
Storytelling is an essential tool for bringing the experiences of children and young people with cancer to life for our target audiences. Departing from our usual style of filming real case studies, we decided to use actors to depict real-life experiences. This allowed us to imitate the ageing process and be specific when considering diversity and comfort in front of the camera.
We asked our network of families to send in their milestones to ensure that the two-childhood cancer journeys we were depicting were authentic. The families were the first people to be introduced to the campaign to provide them with context and pique their interest from the start. There were no expectations for their answers. Parents would focus on traditional milestones such as learning to ride a bike, or medical milestones such as the moment their child had their Hickman line taken out.
It was important that we asked for their milestones and relevant photos. It ensured a personal experience for the families, and they trusted the handling of their precious memories. Rose, 17, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) at just five months old. After sending in Rose’s milestones of becoming Head Girl at primary school and her first ballet solo, her mum, Alison said “When we talk about milestones, every single day since the day she was diagnosed has been a major milestone because it means she’s made another day. So I want people to know there’s light at the end.”
Their support of the concept itself was also incredibly important to us. The passion with which they responded and the pride they felt for the milestones secured our decision that the directive was appropriate and was going to be meaningful to those portrayed in the film.
The production team we worked with were excellent at ensuring the milestones were at the heart of the project and were placed above any artistic license. With the data anonymised, we collated all the milestones and sorted them by age and gender. We identified the main themes internally. Then, we spoke through the submissions with the production team to inform the content.
Many of the traditional childhood milestones focused on a physical activity or performance – so it was clear we needed to reflect this in the film. We wanted to create a video that strikes the right balance between childhood scenes and medical moments. To achieve this, we spent a lot of time storyboarding and discussing different approaches with the production team. We wanted viewers to feel each moment and relate as if it was a family member or close friend – by re-creating authentic snapshots in a child’s life that are understandable to all of us.
We wanted a professional opinion from someone who works with cancer patients. So, we invited our trustee, Bruce Morland, a retired Professor of Paediatric Oncology, to become an advisor for the film. He met with the production team to discuss the visuals of medical scenes and prop selection/ setting. He confirmed the milestones we were focusing on were exactly the kind he would discuss with patients, and he was present on set to ensure consistency and act as a sounding board.
It was important for us to depict childhood cancer sensitively and authentically. By involving a trustee, we formed a stronger internal relationship and used the expertise we already had available.
Staying true to our brand values
The families are at the heart of everything we do so it was essential to invite them on set. Childhood cancer patients Rose, 17, and Frankie, 7, attended the shoot and were immersed in the filming. We created a behind-the-scenes video alongside the main project to capture the real impressions of the families we worked with. This not only provided valuable documentation but also added more gravitas to our film.
We sought permission to share all the milestones on social media as a wider campaign. This allowed us to continue to raise awareness for all the different milestones submitted during our initial research phase. The families were our first audience insight once we had a version ready, and their feedback was welcomed.
The editing process became very hands-on, and our Head of Marketing and Communications attended the studio for lengthy sessions when the first edits weren’t staying true to our vision. We premiered the final two versions internally, giving the Children with Cancer UK staff the final vote for their preferred version. We also created varying lengths of the content so that it was appropriate for all our channels.
Creating this film was a large project for our team and it gave us invaluable experience in production and insights into our own brand. Our campaign ignited a conversation about milestones, both within our organisation and on our channels. It achieved our goal of raising awareness that a child facing cancer is experiencing the same relatable, childhood milestones as everyone else.
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Banner Image: Klen Torres on Unsplash