BBC Campaign

Helping the RNLI engage with last night’s TV audience

Starting on July 13, BBC One is airing a documentary about the RNLI, focusing on the real-life experiences of the charity’s life-savers. The documentary, called ‘Saving Lives at Sea’ will highlight the work of the lifeboat crewmembers, flood rescue teams and 25,100 other volunteers at stations across the UK.

For the RNLI this series was more than a chance to show behind the scenes. It was the opportunity to drive home the message that the RNLI is a charity, dependent on the heroics of its volunteers. By building on viewers’ interest, the RNLI could start a conversation and raise awareness of the great work they do, creating an emotional connection with the public. Viewers might be inspired to simply find out more about the charity and make a donation, or get involved and volunteer their time.


An opportunity not to be missed

A typical BBC One documentary could be expected to post viewing figures in the millions. Crucially, 51% of this audience would typically fit into the RNLI’s core target life stages (aged 35 to 64).

The charity wanted to create a supporting advertising and social media campaign to generate ongoing engagement from those who had seen the programme.

BBD was tasked with creating a multimedia campaign in which creative would be placed on online banner ads in national media, on huge outdoor digital display placements in major cities, and through video for social media and the RNLI website.

Creative would be regionally tailored in line with media placements, so that London commuters, for example, would see adverts starring the crewmembers who safeguard the Thames, keeping the story relevant.

No such thing as simple

Simple enough, but there was a catch. The BBC could only give short notice of the date the programme would air, meaning assets had to be prepared in advance, then rapidly adapted at the 11th hour to suit the specs of the advertising locations secured. So when, for example, episode 4 was became episode 1 at the last minute, it was a case of all hands on deck in the BBD creative department.

In addition, footage taken for the documentary was owned by the BBC so couldn’t be used in BBD creative, while content for each episode was kept under wraps, meaning that BBD had to anticipate storylines based on brief episode guides. Finally, creative assets could not reference the BBC or be seen to promote the show, or ask for donations directly.

The BBD creative focused on a story-based approach, emphasising that RNLI volunteers are real, everyday heroes, who are nevertheless prepared to drop everything at a moment’s notice in order to save lives at sea or along the coast.

Within the campaign’s visual narrative, it was also important to elaborate on the different roles within the RNLI, dampening the perception that the charity’s work is predominantly about riding the breakers wearing oilskins aboard a lifeboat. In fact, the busiest lifeboat station in the UK & Republic of Ireland is on the Thames.

All is Not Lost

By contrast, the social media and online video takes viewers on a Michael Bay-style romp through the full range of RNLI activity, so immersive you can almost taste the salt spray, before lingering less frantically over the volunteers behind the drama. The message: it takes real people to do heroic acts.

For BBD account manager Louise Hart, the speed of the campaign from initial client briefing to execution sometimes had to match a full-throttle RNLI rescue for pace. But in such situations the training kicks in.

“For such a high profile campaign, a lot of people at RNLI had to approve creative, which meant accommodating several opinions without ever having much time to adapt. But we used our two years’ experience of working with the RNLI to evaluate what would and would not be accepted. We did whatever we could to make life easier for our lovely client Helen, who already had lots of running around to do at her end.

“Generally we had to be fast, agile and reactive. The video, for example, was proposed relatively late, so we had just 7 days to make it.”

For broadcast information about ‘Saving Lives at Sea’ click here

To see more examples of BBD’s creative portfolio, click here