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Aardman’s Heather Wright on how storytelling captures hearts and changes behaviour

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Heather Wright

The executive producer and head of content talks us through breaking barriers via the power of a good story and empowering people as Live:Lab’s creative collaborator

Aardman’s Heather Wright on how storytelling captures hearts and changes behaviour

What stories should we be telling each other about the NHS and our own health? How do we create a narrative that puts healthcare in a positive light for millions of people and opens our eyes to solutions and not just problems?

Twelve years ago, Aardman took the idea of a bachelor and his dog and turned it into Wallace & Gromit – a story centring on the escapades of a cheese-loving inventor and his canine companion.

As an animation producer at Aardman, I thought about Wallace & Gromit and the power of storytelling again when I was asked to prepare a talk for a recent King’s Fund event, ‘Ideas that Change Health’.

We are all aware that some of the biggest challenges facing the NHS are a result of illnesses caused by people’s behaviour – behaviour that happens when people are at home, at work, at play – anywhere except in the doctor’s surgery. So if we are going to make a positive impact on people’s health, and help alleviate the huge strain on the NHS through chronic disease, we need to get to the root of the problem and change the lifestyle choices that people make.

The most effective way of doing this is by capturing people’s hearts – by telling them stories that are relatable and memorable because of the way they are told. Audiences engage with stories through characters and the most powerful connections happen when they interact on an emotional level.

One such example of using animation in this way is Aardman’s creation of Santa Forgot, q provocative Christmas ad campaign for Alzheimer’s Research UK. The animation was based around the incredibly simple premise: ‘What if Santa had dementia?’. The powerful play on a classic story and much-loved household character aimed to change people’s perceptions of dementia and also reinforce that through research, there is hope for defeating the disease.

Narrated by Stephen Fry, Santa Forgot imagines a world where the magic of Christmas has been lost because Santa is living with the effects of dementia and no longer visits children across the world on Christmas Eve. Santa Forgot’s central character is a young girl called Freya, who has grown up in a world without Santa. On learning about Santa’s condition, Freya travels to the North Pole. She offers her own support and re-mobilises the redundant elves as researchers, explaining her belief that ‘if Santa has a disease, research can find a way to fix it’. Through this depiction, Santa Forgot showcases that with world-leading research, new approaches and innovative thinking, the diseases which cause dementia can be defeated; reinforcing the message of hope for a cure.

Aardman’s Heather Wright on how storytelling captures hearts and changes behaviour

The attention-grabbing concept caught the hearts and minds of the nation, with donations to Alzheimer’s Research UK increasing by 207 per cent following the launch of the animation. Santa Forgot has been a real testament to how emotive and clever creative concepts can be harnessed to drive awareness and alter behaviour.

A new project that also puts the power of storytelling at its core is Live:Lab. Live:Lab is an ambitious project aiming to help change behaviour and empower people to overcome the ‘Fear of Finding Out’ – a significant barrier preventing many from seeking medical advice when they have worrying health symptoms.

Through Live:Lab, AbbVie is aspiring to break down barriers and form progressive partnerships with the aim of supporting the NHS – something that I am proud to be a part of. Under the chairmanship of Alan Milburn, the former secretary of state for health, I have become one of the creative Live:Lab collaborators.

The other collaborators are doctors, scientists, academics, behaviour change experts, people who make virtual reality products and games, not forgetting the people who understand data. A range of disciplines you wouldn’t ordinarily find around the same table, but which are coming together to try and tackle the same problem.

When it comes to discussions in the collaboration, I champion the power of storytelling, but it is when this is combined with the expertise of the other industries represented by the Live:Lab collaborators – from open-data solutions, to GP insights and more – that the true power of the collaboration is felt.

We are coming together to find a solution that will help us better understand the ‘Fear of Finding Out’ and in doing so, we hope we will touch the hearts of the nation and empower them to think twice about their behaviour.

This originally appeared in issue 114 of 3D Artist. Subscribe today and never miss an issue!