Here’s a sneak peek at the May 7 issue of Marketing
When agencies take on pro bono clients, everybody wins: agencies get a break from soap selling to “do unto others” and charities get free campaigns. But campaigns (or taglines or something else in an agency’s comfort zone) have typically been the result in this arrangement.
That’s starting to change. Just as the paying side of the business is moving towards untraditional disciplines (mobile apps and IP development), so are the requests from charitable organizations.
Pain Squad is the result of one such project. Dr. Jennifer Stinson, a child pain researcher at Toronto’s SickKids hospital, had been reaching out to mobile tech developers for a project that would use smartphones to poll child cancer patients. Kids getting treatment are typically asked to track when and how intensely they feel pain, how it affects concentration and what they’ve done to cope with it.
The usual systems for gathering that data—paper journals or PDA devices—are dry and clinical and can easily be forgotten when patients are fatigued from treatments like chemotherapy.
“In about 70% of patients, they forget to do it,” Stinson says. “They’ll fill it in on the last day before they come back to hospital, basically backfilling and relying on memory. It’s not accurate.”
Stinson wanted a smartphone app that was simpler to use and could remind patients to record data with programmable alarms. While she was procuring a vendor, staffers at independent agency Cundari got wind of the review. A few meetings later, they got the assignment.
“I was surprised,” Stinson says. “I was worried that an ad agency wouldn’t have the expertise to do this kind of development. But I liked how they thought outside the box. They came up with the whole notion of the Pain Squad.”
Cundari put the journal questions into mobile app form as Stinson had asked, but reimagined the entire format as a game. Now patients click and swipe through 20 questions twice a day as members of an elite police squad that tracks down pain. Questions appear on the lined pages of a policeman’s notebook. The menus are set inside a station house. The questions themselves are more interactive, too: illustrations let kids shade in the areas of their body where they hurt and simple sliders let them record pain levels between one and 10.
Kids then earn reward badges for consistent use—which produces better data—and see encouraging video messages from well-known police characters. Carol-Ann Granatstein, Cundari’s director of marketing and communications, enlisted the casts of Rookie Blue and Flashpoint to record the videos, even convincing Flashpoint actors to get into costume while on hiatus between seasons.
Brent Choi, Cundari’s chief creative officer, says the agency is seeing growth in non-ad projects such as these. For example, the shop recently did an art installation for a Toronto condo development company. “This is what I love about our business now. Different things are coming in the door that need creative problem-solving. It’s a wonderful time.”
After nearly a year of development, the app is still undergoing testing with patients aged nine to 18 at SickKids. However, if it’s effective, the app could be used in hospitals nationwide before the end of the year. There are even plans to develop subsequent versions, perhaps finding a concept that works for adult patients as well.
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