HAT sells old ads to care homes to help dementia sufferers

Initiative sees past ads shown in care homes.

HAT: archive of ads for brands such as Rowntree
HAT: archive of ads for brands such as Rowntree

Some of Britain’s biggest advertisers are allowing their most famous TV commercials and print ads from the 1950s and 1960s to be used in a major project to help improve the quality of life for thousands of elderly people living in care homes and those suffering from dementia.

BP, Britvic, Diageo, Ford, Lego, Mars, Nestlé, Premier Foods, PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble, RB, Shell, Unilever and Vauxhall are among those that have agreed to take part in the Ad-Memoire initiative now being promoted to 11,300 care homes across the country after a year-long trial in Norfolk.

Their ads – together with supporting material including quizzes, puzzles and a specially developed "Brand Bingo" game and "Ads of the Month" – aim to help alleviate some of the loneliness suffered by care-home residents while jogging the memories of those living with dementia.

Research has shown that of the 500,000 elderly care-home residents in the UK, many suffer from depression, which is compounded by high staff turnover among their carers. Meanwhile, the Alzheimer’s Society predicts that the number of dementia sufferers will rise from the current 850,000 to more than a million by 2025.

The ready-to-stream content via tablet or smartphone is intended to spark conversations between residents, carers and their families. The ads will all feature brands and products that still exist, creating common ground between older and younger family members.

Google has added its support to the initiative by donating 100 Chromecasts, allowing care homes to project the Ad-Memoire app on to large screens.

Wandsworth Council will be the first to trial Ad-Memoire in its care homes, while other local authorities are showing interest in following suit. Contact is also being made with NHS commissioning groups.

Ad-Memoire is the result of a joint initiative by the History of Advertising Trust and the University of East Anglia. The university approached the charity last year in search of a possible project on which some of its post-graduate students could work. 

Alistair Moir, HAT’s archive collection manager, suggested the huge interest in historic advertising could be the basis of a project to better connect older people in care to those around them.

"Having spoken about HAT’s archive to all sorts of groups, ranging from charities to academics, it became obvious what huge nostalgia there is for historic ads. Not just for the ads themselves but their role in people’s lives," he said.

"It got me thinking about how useful reminiscence could be in enhancing the well-being of the elderly and those living with dementia. When we contacted care homes to ask them if they thought the idea could work, we got a hugely positive response."

Care homes will pay £39.99 plus VAT per month to get the Ad-Memoire service, with discounts for annual payment and for groups taking the service in 20 care homes or more.

"Getting the pricing right is difficult," Moir acknowledged. "But this is a unique service and a care home could pay up to £100 for an entertainer. We’re hoping to encourage agencies and brand owners to sponsor some of the smaller independent care homes to allow them to receive the Ad-Memoire app for a specific amount of time."

Meanwhile, academics at three universities – UEA, Reading and Essex – want to use Ad-Memoire as the basis for research into the benefits and effects of reminiscence. The Wellcome Trust has shown interest in sponsoring the research and Keith Weed, HAT’s president and Unilever’s former marketing chief, is approaching the Leverhulme Trust.

"Very little research has been done," Moir said. "And most studies to date just conclude that more research needs to take place."

If successful, Ad-Memoire could extend HAT’s strategy of being more proactive in exploiting its resources to create more permanent income streams needed to sustain what is now the world’s largest advertising archive with some 10 million items. 

"If we can get it into 1,000 care homes, as well as attracting interest from the NHS and other charities, then it could become a real money-spinner for us," Moir said. "But just as important is what this means for our archive. It’s always been good for education. Now we’re able to use it for people’s well-being and to help society."

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