“We had to be authentic and truthful”: Havas Lynx’s powerful campaign encourages drug users to carry anti-opioid overdose medication
The agency’s creative director Rob Jenkins details how it approached creating work around such a sensitive and utterly important topic.
- Ruby Boddington
- 28 September 2021
Naloxone is a medicine that rapidly reverses an opioid overdose. By blocking the effects of opioids, it can restore normal breathing to a person if their breathing has slowed or stopped because of an overdose. In short, it saves lives. It’s a drug commonly carried by police and widely used in hospitals, but where it can have the most impact, is if it finds its way into the hands of those at the heart of the opioid crisis: users. But how do you engage a marginalised community that is regularly othered by society and convince them that what you are offering is in their best interest? That was the challenge facing Ethypharm, a company that produces naloxone, so it reached out to Manchester-based Havas Lynx, a creative agency specialising in healthcare.
Creative director Rob Jenkins has worked in this field for eight years, telling It’s Nice That it’s a “fascinating place to work due to the impact that your work can have on people across the world.” Havas Lynx first began working with Ethypharm at the beginning of 2020 and Rob recalls how he was drawn in from the start. Although Ethypharm is small, Rob describes the team as determined and passionate which was “infectious and you could see how much they cared about saving lives – so much so that they give out thousands of free kits every year and offer regular training sessions, to help achieve their goal of reducing overdose deaths in the UK.” The task ahead of Havas Lynx was not small though, despite Ethypharm’s commitment to the cause. “We knew we needed to get deep into the community to stand a chance of reaching our audience,” Rob says.
To do so, Havas Lynx worked with photographer Harry F Conway. Based in London, Harry is a street photographer who shoots solely on film. It was Harry’s ability to connect with a subject and tell their story which drew Havas Lynx to create something meaningful in this instance. The concept for the campaign is pinned to the idea of using “influencers” to spread the word. “We had to be authentic and truthful, as we knew from research that our audience felt othered by society and often close themselves off from people outside of their community. We had to search and find people within the community to influence a change in behaviour,” Rob explains. So, once Harry was on board, the pair of them – along with Rob’s writing partner Angus Prior – headed off around the UK to meet Lee, Lea, Jimmy, Andy, Nicky, Gary and Aaron who all have used, or do use opioids, and carry the naloxone kit.
They spent time with each subject as they shared stories of how naloxone has impacted their life. “When we met up with each person, Harry didn’t take a single shot until we’d sat and chatted, learnt more about the people, heard some of their stories and then went to a spot they might have mentioned that was personal to their story,” Rob says. “Some stories were really tough, like Nicky’s who actually found out about naloxone three months after his fiancé died of an overdose, to Jimmy who was seconds away from losing his friend but saved his life whilst on the phone to 999, and Lea, who didn’t know about naloxone until a friend had used it on her.” The portraits Harry captured of each person relate to these stories in some way, whether through a location or a particular emotion frozen on someone’s face. “It was refreshing to work this way – we didn’t know what to expect, where we were shooting, we didn’t have big production teams, we didn’t stop to review every shot, we just trusted in the power of telling genuine stories and trusted in Harry’s abilities to represent people in an honest and truthful way,” Rob explains. He adds: “All the stories were unique and very personal, however, every person we met now carries a naloxone kit to help save someone else’s life and it was moving to see how passionate they were about doing so.”
The photographs Harry took are then paired with snippets of text telling each subject’s story, set in a serif font in black and white to create a body of work titled Hidden Lifesavers. The results mimic clippings of newspaper headlines, furthering the notion that these are real people and real stories. It’s hard-hitting, to say the least, but that’s exactly where the campaign’s power lies. The photographs are confrontational and direct; hard to walk past on the street without taking a minute to consider each tale. The project serves a purpose far beyond simply making those whose lives haven’t been affected by drug abuse stop and think. It has the potential to impact those whose lives have been affected by drug use, and that’s not to be overlooked.
To date, the campaign has had an amazing response, having run twice already this year with fly posters across the country. So much so, that the campaign will be moving to other areas in the future. Exposure, when it comes to this kind of work is so important. Even Rob – who has worked within healthcare for so long – hadn’t heard of naloxone before beginning this project, and this was a recurring theme in the conversations he had with others. But it has the potential to prevent thousands of unnecessary deaths. “Many of the people we met had been close to death but are now out there actively saving lives, which is something many of us will never do in our lifetime,” he remarks. “I hope this series shares a great sense of pride and power of the people in it. But also that it inspires others in the community to take that vital step to carry naloxone. Because however incredible naloxone is, it can’t save a life on its own. It takes the decision to carry it, to do that.”
GalleryHavas Lynx Group: Hidden Lifesavers 2021 (Copyright © Havas Lynx Group, 2021)
Havas Lynx Group: Hidden Lifesavers 2021 (Copyright © Havas Lynx Group, 2021)
About the Author
Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor.