Blogs & Comment

What's it like to be blind?

TBWA Toronto shows us with short webfilm to raise awareness of media accessibility for the visually-impaired.

If you were blind, how would you be reading this? How would you keep up with the media, whether it be TV, print or online? TBWA Toronto and Accessible Media recently unveiled a short film on the web to raise awareness about accessibility in media for people who are vision and hearing-impaired. The campaign comes ahead of upcoming CRTC hearings on the issue.

Directed by award-winning documentarian David Grabias, the film chronicles the daily life of Jeff Berwick, a suburban Toronto husband and father who’s been blind since he was 13. Berwick is an engaging subject, describing how he navigates the world, from crossing the street to playing with his two young sons.

The film chooses to show rather than tell, avoiding the plucking of heartstrings while still telling a great story. I spoke to the project’s creative directors, writer Allen Oke and art director Mark Mason about “Jeff’s Day,” how it came about, where they found Jeff and more.

What was the brief for the campaign and what made you take this approach?

Oke: The brief was the classic ‘raise awareness’ for Accessible Media. We thought there was a larger exercise here, which was to engender some empathy for the people they reach but also to create some understanding of the importance that they’re able to hear or see our media, so that we’re all able to experience the same culture and on the same page.

This was a lot more about showing, rather than telling, the importance of what Accessible Media does. Why was that the best approach?

Oke: There’s a tendency in advertising doc-style efforts, to still have that feel of a pitch or a sell, so we tried to avoid that at all costs. We also wanted to avoid that sappy, forced emotion that a lot of public service advertising gets into. The best way we did that was by hiring a director with no advertising experience whatsoever. [David Grabias] is an Emmy-winning documentarian for HBO and PBS and we asked him to shoot it as if this was for PBS and not a commercial.

Mason: We’re in advertising but I don’t see this campaign as trying to advertise Accessible Media, more just communicating what they do clearly and honestly. We’re not trying to change anyone’s mind, just showing this story and letting viewers make their own judgment on how important this service is.

How did you find Jeff?

Oke: They gave us a number of possible candidates, so both us and the director interviewed them and he loved Jeff. It was just finding someone who has an inspiring approach to an everyday life that is much more difficult than most people’s.

Often in web work, just because something can be longer than 30 or 60 seconds, doesn’t mean it should be. How did you guys decide on the film’s length?

Oke: The general rule is not to go over 70 seconds, because when you look at Youtube insights you can see the interest falls off generally between the 40 to 67-second mark. We started the campaign with the documentary as the destination and a shorter 60-second teaser driving traffic to it. But two days in we found people were watching the doc more than the teaser, so we changed the strategy. Jeff’s is such an incredible story that it really engaged viewers, so it sort of broke the rules.