Meet Mandie van der Merwe & Avish Gordhan, Executive Creative Directors at M&C Saatchi Sydney, he creatives behind “Stop the horror”campaign.

What was the insight or strategy behind this campaign?
In the 20 years before Stop The Horror, there were over 30 failed attempts to pass a voluntary assisted dying law in Australia. There were 2 main reasons for this repeated failure. One was politicians – this issue doesn’t win you votes easily so there’s not a good reason to support it. The other was religious groups with loyal, large and responsive audiences. Historically, the Church lobbied against this issue with campaigns that were based in fear, obligation and guilt. Pro-voluntary assisted dying campaigns, on the other hand, tended to use rational appeals based on freedom and individuality. We decided to take a play from the Church’s book – build a large, vocal group of advocates, to put pressure on politicians, by showing the terrifying, horrific reality of life as a terminally ill patient.
What were the specific challenges of bringing this idea to life?
The first challenge was choosing the right story and then being authentic in the retelling of it. When we were briefed, the client shared a book called “The Damage Done”. It contained 72 testimonies from terminally ill patients, their families, doctors and nurses. Each one of those stories was horrific – to be honest there were a few stories in there that we considered using, but they were almost too explicit and graphic. We decided to tell Greg Sims’ story because it captured the violent pain Greg experienced and the family’s struggle at the end of his life in a visceral way. The other major challenge was that this was, in many ways, a political campaign. Every word, every scene, every single thing was scrutinised. We knew that if we stepped out of line, made a claim that wasn’t true or retold the story in a way that was not authentic, we risked being called out by our opposition in a way that would topple the entire lobbying effort. And we didn’t have the budgets to fight back if that happened. As a result, the website, eDMs, social post copy, every single element was written dozens of times over.
What did you learn from working on this campaign?
We learnt that creative people need to have projects on the go that they are passionate about and can invest themselves in wholeheartedly. “Love jobs”. We all have an immense energy for work when it’s something we care about. This project nearly broke us, physically and mentally, but never once did we think we were going to give in – it was too important to us personally and we were too focused on not losing in Parliament. If we had to do it all over again, we have one major learning; one thing we would do differently. And it has nothing to do with the creative product. We would have set up some sort of counselling support to work with the team through it. The reality of a job like this is that we all exposed ourselves repeatedly to a very aggressive, emotionally charged and disturbing story over and over and over again. It changes you and your outlook on the world without you realising it.
Who inspires you in this industry?
Too many people. Asheen Naidu. Joanne Thomas. Ant Melder. Jenny Glover. Suhana Gordhan. Tom Martin. Julian Schreiber. Cam Blackley. Ahmed Tilly. Matty Burton. Dave Bowman. The list really does go on and on. Above everything, these are good humans. At a professional level, they’re inspiring to us because they’ve all created a culture of ‘making’ within the agencies and teams in which they’ve worked. They build environments for problem-solvers and give space to creativity – that might sound really easy, but it’s actually a very difficult thing to get right. They’ve inspired us in the way we lead our creative department.
For people who feel invisible professionally, what would be your advice?
Make. Make. And make some more. Be prolific. Your work is the greatest spotlight you have. It can point people at you from anywhere in the world. Do things that are meaningful to you, valuable to brands, memorable to the public, challenging to a jury, rewarding to an agency. It takes an incredible amount of effort, a stupid amount of energy and a whole lot of persistence. But if you do it right once, you will be seen. If you do it over and over again, you will not just be visible, you will be sought after.