CALM's "The last photo" wins TV creativity award

The Adam & Eve/DDB-created film is the latest Thinkboxes winner

CALM's "The last photo" wins TV creativity award

Incorporating user-generated content in an ad brings its own challenges and a need for sensitivity but none more so, it would seem, than in the “The last photo”, created by Adam & Eve/DDB for the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM).

The 90-second TV ad, which features the last videos of real people before they died by suicide and kick-started a conversation around the fact that “suicide hides behind a smile”, has been voted the winner of the May-June Thinkboxes Award for TV creativity.

TV is an “incredibly important channel” for CALM, says its chief marketing officer Matt Jennings. “It allows us to reach a huge audience in an instant.” But also crucial for reaching and engaging as many people as possible and meeting the charity’s aim of creating a national conversation about suicide, he adds, is planning TV as part of an integrated campaign.

It was an uncomfortable truth that led to this TV spot: that “suicidal doesn’t always look suicidal” and, says A&E/DDB senior planner James MacAskill, “that one in five of us will experience suicidal ideation at one point. That suicide hides behind a smile.”

The campaign marked a new direction for CALM in not just raising awareness but actively preventing suicide by tackling a misunderstood aspect of suicidal behaviour. 

Once the proposition was agreed, creatives Richard McGrann and Andy Clough came up the “powerfully simple” idea of showing the last happy, smiling images of those who’ve died by suicide, MacAskill adds. 

Then the choice of director Max Fisher via Cain&Abel was easy. “Max just got it, we clicked from the off,” McGrann remembers. “He totally bought into the idea that we shouldn’t see the hand of the director, yet the truth is,” Clough reveals, “his hands are all over it.”

The sensitivity of that imperceptible touch that nevertheless crafted a film of beauty and emotional potency is clearly the mark of the entire production process.

Collaboration with the families who donated the footage of their loved ones was at the heart of the project, says A&E/DDB producer Amy Simmons - and it was always going to be an emotional experience for everyone involved.

Regular meetings were set up with the participants to ensure the family members understood the idea behind the campaign and how any content they shared would be used. 

“We also took them through all the unfamiliar advertising terms, '' Simmons explains: “’What is an out of home poster?’ for example. The last thing we would’ve wanted is to run off with a photograph or a video that is so incredibly precious and accidentally put it somewhere that might be triggering or traumatic for the family who so generously donated it.”

Taking this approach avoided the biggest potential issue of someone changing their mind about taking part midway through production, or while the content was live. “Of course, we would honour this with immediate retraction,” Simmons adds, “so we had to ensure we worked in a way where the families felt in control.”

In post-production, the “urge to improve and polish” had to be suppressed, she recalls. “The footage was so visceral, we wanted to treat it respectfully and authentically.” From the edit to the colour, “normal rules didn’t apply."

“We even cut the music as if it were a voice over, stripping it back to acapella to hear the voices of the deceased come through, allowing the audience to connect. It was a fine balancing act with both the choice of track and the treatment to maximise the impact without making the audience feel like they’d been hoodwinked when it came to the reveal.”

The TV ad  first aired live on This Morning during a report on the launch of the accompanying “Last Photo” exhibition on London’s South Bank. “The insight and idea was so simple and powerful that it could  be easily adapted for every channel and format,” says CALM’s Jennings, “so the campaign included TV, cinema, out of home, radio, social and digital ads, content created by influencers and brand partners, print, eDMs and PR.”

The film and exhibition were effective in the charity starting a national conversation about suicide, he says. “Most importantly, though, was how it was received by the family and friends of those featured in the campaign, who were all hugely supportive and incredibly brave in telling their story to help save lives.”

The film is, in fact, “a celebration of the people and the joy they gave to the world,” McGrann and Clough agree, “which makes the true nature of what they were really feeling all the more harrowing.”

Simmons sums up that fine balancing act and sensitivity that drove the entire process, from idea to screen: “One size doesn’t fit all. Look at every script subjectively and with a good deal of common sense before trying to apply one cookie cutter approach to all film production.”

Second in the May-June Thinkboxes was "Change. Made easier" by Uncommon for B&Q. “The last lonely menopause” by AMV BBDO for Tena was third. Also shortlisted were “Did somebody say” by McCann London for Just Eat and “The chase” by A&E/DDB for The National Lottery.


Agency: Adam & Eve/DDB

Creatives: Andy Clough, Richard McGrann, Ant Nelson, Mike Sutherland

Client: Matt Jennings

Production company: Cain&Abel

Director: Max Fisher

The Thinkboxes, in association with Campaign, are the only bi-monthly awards that celebrate the UK’s world-beating TV ad creativity, in all its forms. They are judged by the Thinkbox Academy – 200 advertising and marketing luminaries who have been involved in award-winning creative work for TV.

Want to see more great work? Head to the Thinkboxes hub

Thinkbox is the marketing body for commercial TV in the UK, in all its forms. Its shareholders are Channel 4, ITV, Sky Media and UKTV. Thinkbox works with the marketing community with a single ambition: to help advertisers get the best out of today’s TV.

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