Despite the fact that one in every 68 children is diagnosed with autism each year, parents are often unable to name or recognize its signs.
In partnership with Autism Speaks and the Ad Council, BBDO created a campaign with the primary goal of teaching parents the signs of autism.
When we were first briefed, we knew this wasn’t an easy task: Autism is often misunderstood. Many of the signs of autism are easily confused with natural toddler behaviors. Parents often don’t want to accept something might be wrong with their child. Moreover, autism is a spectrum disorder, which means every case is unique. The saying “If you’ve met one child with autism, you’ve met one child with autism” says it all.
So we knew we had to convey the individual signs in a way that every parent could recognize and understand. Ultimately, this lead us to the use of animation. This allowed us to create an open-ended canvas that each parent could imagine their own child within. It also gave us more emotional range to tell the story of autism.
To create as accurate and honest picture of autism as possible, we interviewed many families affected by it. Their stories tended to cluster around specific feelings and experiences. From that, we created visual metaphors to convey the signs. This way, we weren’t being overly prescriptive about what the signs of autism looked like in the real world. Instead, we were able to get parents to see the signs from their child’s perspective, which was more impactful.
While the story based on multiple families’ experiences, the boy himself is represented by Jacob Sanchez. Jacob was diagnosed with autism at three years old.
Jacob didn’t speak until he was age four, which is how we begin the story.
From there, the characters and experiences in the film were directly inspired by the stories of children with autism. As one example: The river in the opening scene represents the road to school that Jacob usually travels on. The river creature represents a traffic jam that, one day, forced his mom to take a different route than ever before. Jacob’s distress at this unknown direction is reflected by his entry into the dark jungle.
Many parents told us that they felt like their child was experiencing the world differently. And that’s the world that we created. The world where lights are brighter, sounds are louder and toys can be scary. Early intervention helps create a bridge between that world and the world we know. So in the film, that was when we transitioned from animation into reality.
To further enforce this, we begin the spot with one boy’s voice, and eventually transition to Jacob’s real voice. This allows us to show how far Jacob has come in his journey, by finding his voice and learning how to deal with his autism after treatment.
To create this world, we partnered with Lobo Production. The world featured in our campaign was built from scratch, and inspired by elements of the interviews. Some of the creatures, as example, are reflections of Jacob’s real toys. We even created real-life collectible models of the creatures, which will be sold to raise money for the cause.
Being able to create something so meaningful, that impacts the lives of many people living with autism, is very important to us and we thank Autism Speaks for this opportunity.