Stephen Hawking Accessibility Ad Named Best Advertising Campaign of 2006

Ayala Tsoref
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Ayala Tsoref

Advertising agency Geller Nessis was responsible for the campaign. Its strength was in its performers: The advertisers exploited the visit to Israel of world-renowned British physicist Stephen Hawking, and convinced him - along with the Access Israel non-profit organization - to star in the campaign for the right of the disabled to access to public places.

Hawking, who suffers from amytrophic lateral sclerosis, and is completely paralyzed, had avoided appearing in advertising previously, except for those he has used to promote his own books.

The campaign was characterized by its simplicity, as well as the text written for Hawking. In the ad, Hawking says that "in another 20 years from now, man will be able to live on the moon, and in another 40 years, man will be able to live on Mars. In the next century, we'll be able to cross the limits of the solar system and search for new worlds. But in the meantime, we really want to go to the supermarket, the movies and to a restaurant."

The ad was filmed at the house of the British Ambassador in Givatayim. Filming took only 30 minutes, all the time that Hawking's busy schedule allowed. Usually such ads take days to shoot. The campaign was produced by Kadishson and directed by Aviv Maaravi.

"When we heard he was coming, the idea of interesting him in our campaign came up immediately," said Access Israel Chairman Yuval Wagner. Several organizations were approached, among them the British Embassy in Israel, Hawking's Web site, the Foreign Ministry and MK Ran Cohen.

"At first, we were told he had no time, and after we already thought it wouldn't happen, Hawking himself decided to make some time and the matter was decided," said Wagner. They got the positive answer only a day before Hawking's arrival in Israel, which compelled the production team to make feverish preparations.

The victory of the Hawking ad was particularly impressive in light of the previous winners, all of which were powerful companies with serious budgets. Last year the Yes satellite broadcaster won the award, and the Israel Electric Corporation won in the previous year.

For the first time, a Golden Cactus winner was chosen for Idea of the Year. The judges, 35 from Israel and 10 international experts, were asked to choose the winner from among all the works submitted in all categories. The choice was based on the underlying idea, rather than actual implementation.

The decision was almost unanimous: Access Israel and Stephen Hawking.

The distant second-place winner was the Renault Clio campaign of Glickman Netler Samsonov. Third place went to the ads for the Volkswagen Touareg by Fogel Ogilvy.

According to Wagner, the concept behind the Hawking campaign was not to evoke pity, even though it involves people with limited mobility, but to make audiences realize that every person, whether able-bodied or handicapped, has the right to go to public places.

Wagner said the situation in Israel with regard to accessibility is unbearable, but the organization's activities are helping to prompt change.

"Many people can't do most of the things a healthy person can do without thinking twice. It's apparent in the simplest things. For example, 95 percent of the country's cafes don't have accessible bathrooms and only five beaches are accessible. There are problems with post offices and stores as well."

Wagner said that only 26 percent of 500,000 handicapped people are employed in any way and the organization is working primarily to increase awareness in this regard.

Once again, Shalmor Avnon Amichay was named the Advertising Agency of the Year in the Golden Cactus Awards. This year, though, it had an easier time winning, as four of the six biggest firms did not compete.

Adler Chomsky, which was expected to give the winner a run for its money and be a real contender for the top spot, came in close behind. Third place went to Geller Nessis, which was the real beneficiary of the absence of the big firms this year.

There are those who claimed that Yair Geller, a partner in Geller Nessis and also the president of the Israel Advertising Association, which organized the competition, benefited from his position. Geller denied this, and explained rightly that there were over 100 different judges from various agencies and customers.

In past years, the small agencies had little reason to stay until the end of the awards ceremony, but this year they finally could see themselves as worthy competitors with a chance of ranking at the top with the winners.