From brief to delivery: Creating the world’s first transformational skin cancer awareness poster

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Mick McCabe is Head of Copy at Havas Lynx and has over 22 years’ experience as a creative copywriter in the advertising industry. Mick has worked in integrated agencies in London, Glasgow, Newcastle and Manchester.

When HHS Hire and Cancer Research UK, asked us to help them raise awareness of the dangers of skin cancer within the construction industry, we jumped at the opportunity. The brief detailed some shocking statistics such as: 60 construction workers die each year from skin cancers and 55% of skin cancer patients are construction workers. When the brief knocks you sideways, we knew we had to produce a campaign that was equally as hard-hitting.

Our initial concepts explored using iconic “Danger” messages emblazoned with scary facts about sun safety on site. You know the kind, the big bold building sites safety posters urging you to wear hard hats, safety glasses and protective boots. It was a good start but not nearly as powerful as we wanted our campaign to be.

Then came our big idea, what if our poster could react to the sun? To highlight the message to workers when they were most at risk? It would be incredible to create a poster that could literally come to life  at the exact moment when workers were in danger of being sun-burnt. We had no idea how we would do this, but if there was a way, we were determined to find it. So we started our research…. And after endless chats with paper suppliers, ink producers and an awful lot of searching online, we discovered ‘photochromic ink’. An ink that is traditionally used in the textile, glass and ceramic industry that becomes intensely coloured after 15 seconds in direct  sunlight. The suppliers were based in China and had never used this ink on a poster campaign. It was a first for all of us. We were excited and we immediately ordered samples to be shipped in from China, and eagerly awaited their arrival.

Creatively, we explored a few executions for our transforming poster, but the one that really gave us the stopping power we were looking for was a skull that appeared on a featureless face. It was hard-hitting and shocking. A graphic that seamlessly blended into a building site, until the message needed to be heard. When the sun shone, our graphic transformed dramatically highlighting the real risk of death to workers. It was uncompromising and striking.

The campaign has been now launched at the 1,000,000 sq ft Bloombery development on Queen Victoria Street in London, a site that currently employs 1,200 Trade Contractor employees managed by Sir Robert McAlpine. And we’ve since heard the campaign could be rolled out to HSS Onsite facilities nationwide, alerting construction workers all over the country to the dangers of skin cancer.

It’s early days to measure the positive impact of the campaign but if the feedback from HSS Hire and Cancer Research UK is anything to go by it will be a great success. This campaign was a joy to work on, and we saw it as a real chance to use our creativity for good. The campaign highlights the incredible power of creativity to deliver a very important message that could save lives. The final campaign is something we are incredibly proud of.

Watch the video here