Two titans of direct response are launching a pro bono campaign this month to fund a lifesaving program for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The :120 spot seeks donations to The Arc, a foundation that offers residential, educational, and vocational support to people with disabilities through more than 700 chapters nationwide.
TeleBrands CEO A.J. Khubani, active with The Arc’s Bergen County, N.J., chapter, spearheaded the effort almost two years ago. “The Arc was doing important work, and it wasn’t getting enough support from the government,” he says. “So I said, ‘Let me take a stab at a national DR campaign, like St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, to get funding.”
Khubani turned to longtime creative partner and pitchman Anthony Sullivan to develop an ad. Sullivan’s daughter Devon, now six, was born with special needs, so the topic is close to his heart. “My daughter will require full-time supervision until her last breath,” Sullivan says. “She’s fantastic, she’s amazing, but she will need supervision. For people who can’t afford that, The Arc is invaluable.”
Sullivan shot footage at several of The Arc’s facilities without a script, then created a heart-wrenching ad from it. One scene shows a mother admitting that The Arc has given her “permission to die” without worrying about her child’s welfare. “It gives parents peace of mind to know that when they’re gone, their kid is going to be taken care of, which is that single most terrifying thing for the parent or guardian of an adult with a disability,” Sullivan says. “It really seems to hit home.”
The ad took 18 months to complete, since it was breaking new ground for The Arc and Sullivan alike. In addition, most of the talent needed their guardians to sign releases and supervise them on location. “It took a village to get it done; many people donated their time and traveled all over the country to make it,” Sullivan says. “It’s the closet thing to a PSA I’ve ever done—and the most rewarding.”
The initial offer asks callers to sign up for a monthly $19 donation and includes a popular “As Seen On TV” premium—a BulbHead Atomic Beam Lantern branded with The Arc’s logo. TeleBrands contributed the lanterns and initial outlay for airtime.
The hope is that the campaign will pay for itself and fund The Arc long into the future. “It costs four times as much to raise a kid with special needs, so the financial burden is huge,” Sullivan says. “There’s a massive amount of work that needs to be done with these kids, and it puts a tremendous strain on their families. It was a great project, and I’m happy to donate my time if I can help one family, one mother, one father, one kid, or one adult with special needs have a more fulfilling and happier life.”