Portraying Parkinson’s

A powerful poster campaign for Parkinson’s UK uses 26 imagemakers to portray the many symptoms of this debilitating disease

Parkinson’s UK poster by Peter Crnokrak, The Luxury of Protest


A powerful poster campaign for Parkinson’s UK uses 26 imagemakers to portray the many symptoms of this debilitating disease

Ad agency The Assembly Network created the 20-poster campaign for Parkinson’s UK. The agency has a long-tern relationship with the charity, advising on communications strategy and devising campaigns such as last year’s ‘mixed up’ posters.

Parkinson’s UK head of marketing Lily Dwek says that last year’s campaign helped shift attitudes but that “our findings are that people don’t understand what Parkinson’s is at all. [With the new campaign] we are really trying to get people to understand Parkinson’s and to empathise. We wanted to explain the diversity of Parkinson’s and that everyone’s Parkinson’s is different.”


Claire Parsons


Astrid Stavro Studio


One of the particular problems is that sufferers often have a mixture of ‘motor’ and ‘non-motor’ symptoms. Dwek says that one of their challenges was “how do you portray a non-motor symptom? How do you portray not being able to sleep properly or having hallucinations?”

Assembly art director Alexandra Taylor’s solution was to recruit (with the help of designer Graham Wood) a diverse group of pro bono contributors to work with her to attempt to dramatise an array of Parkinson’s related conditions. “Each designer was given a specific condition of Parkinson’s and a headline/title and supporting body copy [written by Sean Doyle and Dean Webb] and as much information, case histories and client insights as possible,” ECD Steve Dunn explains. “Some spoke to people with the condition to glean first hand reality of their symptoms.” Others already had experience of people living with Parkinson’s due to family connections.


Jason Kedgley and Dylan Kendle, Tomato


Mark Bonner, GBH


Each contributor, Dunn says, was “encouraged to interpret this content in their own style… The only prerequisite as such, was that each ailment reflect the central theme of our communications – which was ‘Parkinson’s. A psychological horror’.”

The symptoms to portray were chosen by Parkinson’s UK who then tested the resultant posters with members of their community, some of whose feedback was incorporated in the final work. Dwek explains that in campaigns of this nature, charities have to engage in a lot of complementary communications work to ensure that their various constituents understand the aims of the work. “It’s crucial that we don’t offend people,” says Dwek, “but we are also very aware that we need to get the attention of the public.”


Laura Jordan Bambach and Liv Bargman. Photo: Nick Howe


Jonathan Barnbrook


Here lies one of the great problems of charity advertising – finding a balance between an approach that will cut through ‘charity fatigue’ and grab people’s attention but doing so without causing offence either to potential donors or those already affected by the cause.

Was the campaign’s emotive line ‘Parkinson’s. A psychological horror’ a particular concern here? “There are going to be mixed views,” Dwek concedes, “but we have to make the call on whether we want to make an impact or not. We want to be noticed and to put the charity on the map. We are trying to do that in an interesting way that is true to our values.”


Graham Wood


Flo Heiss. Type: Graham Wood. Studio Heiss


Another possibly contentious feature of the campaign is that none of the posters carry the Parkinson’s UK logo. Having listened to countless advertising art directors bemoan the straightjacket of corporate identity guidelines and many more creatives complain of having to work with a logo they find difficult or domineering, I find this an intriguing aspect of this campaign. Without the ‘official’ logo, there is obviously a danger that some may miss the connection with the charity. However, as pieces of communication, their power may perhaps be neutered by the presence of the charity’s corporate identity. It’s an argument that takes place in agencies and design studios every day.

As the client, Dwek’s view is interesting here. The main aim of the campaign, she stresses is “to change people’s attitudes, get them thinking about Parkinson’s and to empathise [with sufferers]… It’s not a brand campaign about the charity but about awareness of Parkinson’s – it’s a much bigger picture.” She also points out that the word Parkinson’s appears several times in each execution and that each poster carries the charity’s URL “so people can go to our website to find out more information – which is what we did in the previous campaign and we have the results to prove that worked.”


Ian Anderson, The Designers Republic


Domenic Lippa, Jeremy Kunze and Lucy Groom, Pentagram Design


Dunn argues that “In the general malaise of charity advertising, it was felt that anything that looked overtly like an ‘ad’ would make people switch off and given the charity¹s limited budgets, there is always a great need to stand out from the sea of emotional messaging we are constantly bombarded with.”

This touches on another intriguing aspect of this campaign which highlights a familiar debate: the posters don’t look like ‘ads’, they certainly don’t look like typical charity ads. Will they therefore attract more attention and engagement or will the public be confused by them or assume they are for perhaps a band or a theatre production? Perhaps the important thing to bear in mind is that these 20 posters represent just one aspect of the charity’s communications. Alongside them, the charity engages in all manner of support and awareness-generating activity.


Tom Hingston, Tom Hingston Studio


Vaughan Oliver. Illustration: Ian Pollock


Vaughan Oliver. Photo: Colin Grey


The work may also have a life beyond posters. Having so many different contributors involved, some of whom have tackled the same symptoms but in different ways has, Dwek says, provided the charity with “a great suite of creative images that we can use in different settings. I was really pleased with the way the campaign evolved with different takes on different symptoms.”


The posters had a soft launch before Christmas at 100 six-sheet sites in London train stations. The charity is now planning further bursts of activity over the coming year and looking at how to use the imagery in other media.


Vaughan Oliver. Illustrator: Marc Atkins


Graham Wood


Photo: Warren Du Preez and Nick Thornton Jones. Design: Graham Wood


Neville Brody, Research Studios



Tony Brook, Spin


Eddie Opara, Pentagram Design


Agency: The Assembly Network.
Executive Creative Director: Steve Dunn
Writers: Sean Doyle and Dean Webb.
Art Director: Alexandra Taylor.
Art Producer: Donna Goldberg.
Account Manager: Anneliese Wensley
Managing Director: Kate Fulford-Brown.
Client: Parkinson’s UK

Full list of collaborators; Nick Howe and Colin Grey, Ian Pollock, Marc Atkins. Jonathan Barnbrook. Graham Wood, Vaughan Oliver. Neville Brody, Jason Kedgley and Dylan Kendle at Tomato, Eddie Opara, Jeremy Kunze, Lucy Groom and Dominic Lippa at Pentagram, Tony Brook at Spin, Ian Anderson, Mark Bonner, Laura Jordan Bambach with Liv Bargman, Flo Heiss, Tom Hingston, Claire Parsons, Peter Crnokrak, Astrid Stavro, Warren Du Preez & Nick Thornton Jones.



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