Awareness: 'Breath of Life'

GSK/McCann Health Breath of Life
McCann Health Shanghai worked with a famous blow painter and a well-known pulmonologist to create the “Breath of Life” app. (McCann)

Category: Awareness
Winning campaign: “Breath of Life”
Client: GlaxoSmithKline
Agency: McCann Health Shanghai

Beauty, creativity, cultural relevance and technology roll up together in the awareness award winner from GlaxoSmithKline and McCann Health. More than just another unbranded ad campaign, “Breath of Life” invented a simple diagnostic tool to address a complex health problem.

That problem? Undiagnosed chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) among older adults in China. While 100 million people there are diagnosed, many more don't know they have the disease and simply accept shortness of breath as a symptom of aging.

“Breath of Life” is housed on the ubiquitous app WeChat, where people can simply tap to blow into their smartphones. Doing so creates a traditional Chinese blow painting of a tree with flowers, while testing the user’s lung capacity at the same time.

McCann recognized that pushing people toward standard COPD testing wouldn't drive up diagnosis rates. “We were never going to get them to a doctor’s office to have any test, because they don’t even recognize it as a problem; they just think they’re getting old or they’re not fit enough," said Matt Eastwood, McCann Health global chief creative officer.

So the agency worked with a famous blow painter and a well-known pulmonologist to create the app. The sound of breathing is recorded by the phone's microphone and fed into an algorithm that generates the tree painting, along with a percentage denoting lung capacity. If the test taker’s result falls below 70%, the algorithm advises a doctor visit.

“For me, the smart part of this was delivering it to a device they already had in their pockets,” Eastwood said. "It made it simple in a way it hadn’t been before.”

Henry Shen, chief strategy officer at McCann Health Greater China, added via email, “With such low levels of awareness, it would not be possible to engage the target audience unless the solution was simple, easy to perform and with a clear message.”

“Breath of Life” was the first COPD self-test tool on WeChat, and within two weeks of launch, it had already racked up 10,000 click-throughs.

“Although we had hoped, it was still quite surprising to see how people enjoyed interacting with ‘Breath of Life.’ I am also happy to see that their rising awareness of COPD is helping a generation to build a healthier life,” Wendy Chan, executive creative director at McCann Health Shanghai, said in an email interview.

“Breath of Life” also became an ad festival darling, picking up the first Grand Prix in pharma in three years at Cannes Lions Health in June.

Next up, McCann is working with GSK on how they might translate the idea to other cultures. Blow painting is specific to China, but creative forms specific to other local areas might work as well.

“One of the great things about the work now is that it’s so culturally relevant to China. I’d love to repeat that in other places,” Eastwood said.

Awareness: 'Breath of Life'