Case Study: The Most Powerful Arm

Save Our Sons is an Australian charity organization raising funds and awareness to help find a cure for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD). DMD is the most common fatal genetic disorder diagnosed in children; it especially affects boys. The disease causes progressive deterioration of muscles. Sufferers lose the ability to use their arms and for example sign their name very early in their life. Sons believed that the Australian Government had not yet dedicated enough attention or funds to DMD. They concluded that the only way to grab the Government’s attention was to create a petition, which would be high enough profile to drive discussion in the Senate (Parliament). Save Our Sons together with their agency Reactive took the initiative to create a campaign, which would allow anyone to ‘sign’ the petition.



Jacob Lancaster is a young man living in Australia who suffers from DMD. Jacob’s lungs, heart and throat muscles have all weakened significantly during his teenage years. By now it is almost certainly already too late to find a cure for Jacob. He knows what lies ahead but is still determined to think positively and to do what makes him happy. Most of all he wants to help other people suffering from DMD and if possible help scientists to find a cure. Therefore, he agreed to be the face (and arms) behind this strikingly creative campaign.


Save our Sons took a very different approach to cause-related marketing. In order to reach more people and make the charity aspect interesting and engaging, a unique robot device was built. ‘The Most Powerful Arm’ was in fact a bionic arm which uses the original handwriting of Jacob Lancaster to ‘sign’ the petition for each supporter (via Facebook). The goal was not to raise money but rather to raise awareness about the disease and to appeal to the Australian Government to act in support of finding the cure. Tim Buesing, the creative director of the agency Reactive comments on the campaign objective: “The main purpose was that we could take the signatures to the government of Australia so that they would donate more attention to it and discuss it as a disease that they would actually fund for research. Indirectly it was about money.”

According to, the petition asked the Australian Government for just 2 things:

  • To match the $1,75 million already raised by Save our Sons and bring anti-DMD drug trials to Australia.
  • To make finding a cure for the disease a National Priority.




Three robots were built for this campaign. One for exhibitions and the office, one for television shows and radio and the third for backup, because technology is never 100% reliable. Tim Buesing describes the process: “The physical build itself was not that expensive. There was a lot of thinking which takes a lot of time. Therefore, the material aspect is not that expensive. The night before the big launch in a museum, it turned out that the robot creates a lot of heat, which would heat up the table so that the paper could catch fire. A fan was built in at the last minute, making it a very stressful night for the team. Luckily everything went well afterwards.”


A big focus was on PR on television and radio. There were two reasons for this choice of broadcast media. Firstly, it was important to get journalists excited, to spread the word about the campaign and the charities. Secondly, as this campaign is closely children and health related – the main target group are mothers aged 25-35. In media terms morning and early evening TV shows perfectly target this audience. Young mothers were more likely to connect emotionally with the campaign and as a result sign the petition via Facebook.


The campaign’s microsite gave additional information about the cause and enabled supporters to watch the bionic arm in action. ‘The Most Powerful Arm’ pushed its innovation further through a Facebook application. Using Jacob’s handwriting, people were able to ‘sign’ the petition via Facebook. The signature was then posted on the supporter’s Facebook wall.

This way, all his or her Facebook friends were aware of the campaign and of the charity. This acted as a motivator for people to sign. Tim Buesing explains: “And it also had to be visible to others so that you engage and all of your friends can see it. You help others because that is the ideal picture of yourself. Unless somebody notices that, it doesn’t really help you to self-compensate.”

Of course this raises interesting questions about the motivations for people getting involved with a charity/ good cause; these are probably beyond the scope of this book! What is undeniable however is that The Most Powerful Arm campaign skyrocketed awareness of DMD in Australia.




The Most Powerful Arm proved to be a revolutionary campaign. Over 32,000 signatures were collected for the petition (from 85,000 visitors who visited the website), which means the conversion rate was astonishing for any charity campaign (40%). As a result, it became the most successful health related petition in Australian history. It was also the first Facebook-based petition. Until this time, the Government had accepted only written signatures. Although, gathering money was not a direct goal, a small button on the microsite enabled people to donate. A few donors ended up donating a significant amount of money. Additionally, the campaign touched the Australian Medical Foundation, who also donated money to the charity. As for the initial objective of reaching the Government – the Senate has discussed DMD. At the time of writing, encouragingly two senators have taken the cause on board.



This campaign proves that cool technology and targeted media can take charity marketing to a whole new level. There was almost no money for seeding, but this did not stop the campaign from touching the core target audience. The focus on television and radio helped to raise the awareness from 0-100 very rapidly.

Lessons to be learned from this campaign, according to Tim Buesing, Digital Creative Director of Reactive: “Never forget the power of video. The emotional impact is huge. If you want to move awareness and attachment from 0 to a 100 in minutes – nothing beats video. The second lesson – don´t underestimate the long tail. We continuously have traffic from high profile blogs who discovered the story later. TV gives big spike, you will get long tale from blogs and other forms of content marketing. The third lesson is about humanizing the technology.”





Peter Roper


“The Most Powerful Arm’ stood out to me as an outstanding project for a number of reasons, most of all as a powerful piece of storytelling – overcoming adversity, or the underdog story, is a classic one.

But it was the attention to detail that got the great response, social and media coverage results. The campaign wasn’t just asking people to say they support kids diagnosed with a genetic disorder like DMD, it needed them to spread the message too. When you combine the story of Jacob with a petition-signing robot that resembles a human arm, that writes in Jacob’s own handwriting (taken from a Mother’s Day card, no less), it makes it almost impossible not to pass that on.

The arm became Jacob’s arm, and that’s what made it shareable and newsworthy and achieve the results that it did despite having no paid media spend.

Also at work here was visibility: first, people could watch the arm in action and see how many people had signed the petition. Second, the arm, (basically a glorified laser printer), was a tangible and humanised star in its own right, making it suitable for TV.

My only question, until it clicked, was about why a campaign would set out to create a printed petition when the government only accepted written petitions. But of course: people with DMD deserve a voice but they can’t write themselves. Bravo.

Coming up with a concept that is shareable and newsworthy is one thing, but for those two things to run as fast and far as they can requires a lot of effort to enable them, from the sharing tools being as simple to use as possible, to key talent being available for media appearances. If there’s anything standing in the way of either of those two key things taking place it is shaving important conversion percentages off a campaign’s effectiveness.”



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