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The Heart Attack Ad

The Heart Attack Ad

About this Initiative

Everyone thinks they know what a heart attack looks like, but they’re almost always wrong as it’s rarely dramatic at all. This campaign by Barnes, Catmur & Friends in New Zealand drew attention to the subtle warning signs and actually saved a life.

According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), New Zealand loses 138 lives to heart disease per 100,000, which is 18 per cent higher than the OECD average. The problem is, there are misconceptions around what a heart attack really looks like, and therefore many heart attacks simply go undiagnosed. 

Dentsu brand Barnes, Catmur & Friends worked with the Heart Foundation, on a mission to help raise more money and save more lives than ever before.

They did it through a television advert called ‘The Heart Attack Act’ that asked viewers to judge ‘Who gives the most realistic performance of a heart attack?’ and then showed series of ordinary people acting out what they thought a heart attack looked like. You had to choose which one you thought was most realistic. But it was a trick question. The twist was it was that the person on screen who was actually showing symptoms of a heart attack, was a guy on a bench sitting just left of frame. The campaign played on these misconceptions.

Not only did St John Ambulance report a 28% increase in calls relating to heart ailments, awareness of symptoms increased by 54%, and what’s more, actual lives were saved!

New Zealand truck driver, Eddie Davies was just one of the many lucky people saved by the advert’s clever messaging. Before Davies had watched the ad, he’d been dismissing chest pain for heartburn. It transpired that the 63 year old had been having many small heart attacks all week before a major heart attack finally occurred. Davies said the pain radiated through his chest, stating, "I was hot and clammy and the pain was like heartburn but it was a lot more severe. I knew it was a heart attack. All the symptoms fit with what I saw on the TV.” He said had he not watched the advertisement, he would have taken an antacid and gone back to sleep. "I could've been dead. That ad saved my life." Davies admitted, “Two out of three arteries were totally blocked so they put in two stents and I was discharged the next day.”

As well as saving many lives, the agency won the Gold Best Strategic Thinking, Gold Charity Not for Profit, Gold Limited Budget, and Gold Highly Commended in the Effies. But more than award-winning, it was a truly life changing campaign for many residents of New Zealand.