Ancoats-based The Gate Films knocked the biggest star in the world, Justin Bieber, off the Christmas number 1 spot and handed it to the NHS Choir. With a little help from Justin himself.

“We have to save the NHS” was the problem posed to The Gate CEO Simon Lewis in late October 2015 when he was approached by three junior doctors. The Manchester-based film, TV and video advertising agency set about developing a pro bono campaign to support the NHS and NHS Choir.

The Gate has produced films for Manchester United, fashion brand Missguided and TV and online ads for dozens of well-known brands.

The Gate’s Head of Creative, Nick Entwistle took the query to crowdfunding site One Minute Briefs, home to more than 10,000 advertising creatives, ready to answer a creative conundrum. The winning idea, by freelance creative Steve Hunter, revolved around the idea that a person’s relationship with the NHS is rather like a marriage, and it’s time to renew vows.

This initial campaign asked people to post pictures of themselves with a sign reading ‘I DO’ and the hashtag #loveyourNHS. Celebrities joined in, including Manchester United footballer Luke Shaw, Frost/Nixon star Michael Sheen, TV presenter and actor Angus Deyton, contemporary R&B singer Jessie Ware, and designer and actor Sadie Frost.

This activity alone reached more than 500,000 people on Facebook and a further 150,000 on Twitter in two days.

According to Lewis, “My feelings about the project were deeper than just thinking the NHS is a good idea. I was delivered into the world by the NHS, my 3 children were too. It gave my Mum a lifesaving brain operation, and has looked after our family many times over the years.

“I also believe in the power of the creative advertising industry for good, not just selling things. Just like the NHS we have one of the best systems in the world. If we can’t help spread a message who can?” he said.

The second phase of the campaign involved The Gate making a film of the NHS Choir performing a mashup of Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water and Coldplay’s Fix You.

Shot at the Lewisham and Greenwich hospital by Oliver Warren, who recently won awards for his short film ‘Cusp’, the video was ready in early December for 18 December when the song would be available for download and compete for the highly competitive Christmas UK number 1 spot.

Two more local firms, Macclesfield-based Big Brand Ideas set up the campaign website while iProspect Manchester donated personal time from their team to help gain new digital audiences.

Throughout the pre-Christmas period, the NHS Choir and Justin Bieber jockeyed for the number 1 position. Vast volumes of streams put Bieber ahead. Then music PR specialists Scream Promotions secured a place for the NHS Choir on BBC Radio 2’s morning show with Chris Evans, the UK’s most listened-to radio show.

The NHS Choir pulled even with Bieber.

But only for a short time. “Then the unexpected, the unbelievable, the astonishing. Justin Bieber tweeted his support for the NHS Choir, asking his 47 million fans to download the song. There was no looking back,” said Simon.

“It’s strange to find yourself in the middle of a media storm – at Christmas no less – but find that you are more elated than destroyed. Also strange to see a small idea, developed with crowdfunding and with passion, become a big campaign. No – a huge campaign. And a brush with the biggest star in the world, Justin Bieber,” he said.

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