Sophie Falkiner OPSM

Penny the Pirate a hero for children’s eye health

In Examples by Peter Gearin

OPSM storybook is not just an effective and ongoing content-led crusade, it’s an international award-winner.

W hat’s the definition of a successful content campaign? One that raises awareness of an issue that affects one in every six Australian kids? One that continues to make a difference for city and rural families? One that’s created in consultation with subject-matter experts and academics, and based on real science?

Maybe it’s one that wins widespread respect for its innovative and clever execution? Or one that meets the client’s marketing objectives? Or one that wins international awards, and is recognised as the best in the world?

What if one brilliant idea achieves all of these things?

That would be the story of Penny the Pirate – an interactive illustrated children’s book and app that continues to improve the eye health of kids across Australia. Written into a simple pirate story by New York-based illustrator Kevin Waldron are eye screenings for distance vision, colour vision and depth perception. Parents use an eye patch, plastic lens, 3D glasses and cardboard props to test their child’s vision in a fun and friendly environment, and send the results to optometrists who suggest if further tests are needed.

Australian optometry brand OPSM launched Penny in 2014 after its research found that more than one in five children aged three to 10 had never had their eyes tested, and that parents put more of a priority on issues such as dental care and immunisation. It also found that vision issues have an impact on child behaviour, leading to disruptions and poor school performance, and that the issue was worse in country areas.

OPSM and its advertising agency at the time, Saatchi and Saatchi, consulted the Department of Optometry and Vision Sciences at the University of Melbourne before formulating the plan that brought Penny to life.

Catherine Harris, Saatchi and Saatchi’s managing partner, enjoyed the collaborative nature of the client/agency relationship while the concept was being developed. “We had done some proactive work for them around trying to solve some of the bigger challenges of which Penny became one of the work streams,” Harris says. “What we discovered is that [OPSM] didn’t really have anything that brought children into the brand.”

She says one of the issues was breaking down the natural aversion experienced by some mums and kids when it comes to eye care. “Obviously, kids and parents find eye care a bit intimidating,” Harris says. “You’re not really sure on the outcome. They’re not fun. They seem complex. There was a gap between how many people should have been looking at getting eye screenings and eye care, and how many people were. There was also a kind of awareness and engagement issue with eye health in general for young children.”

Harris says a breakthrough came when OPSM, the experts at the University of Melbourne and the campaign team looked closely at how kids’ eyes were being tested.

“A lot of the screening or tests children were getting were adult tests,” she says. “What we were able to do is take what had traditionally been a nine-step screening process and take it into three or four screenings. We then improved each one of those screenings to help them work within the story and with each other.” She uses the example of the long-vision test, which is done in Penny the Pirate by using shapes rather than the letter E facing frontwards and backwards. “The backwards E is actually for illiterate adults; it didn’t work very well for children who didn’t know their left and right,” she says.

“Try to get a three year old to cover one of their eyes. We get them to put the pirate patch on.”Saatchi's Catherine Harris

Speaking at the time of the launch, Associate Professor Daryl Guest from the Department of Optometry and Vision Sciences at the University of Melbourne said that clinical academics worked with OPSM’s optometrists to develop a series of core vision screening tests for children that were effective, repeatable and fun. “The book contains tests for distance vision, lazy eye, depth perception and colour vision,” he said. “These have been integrated throughout the book to keep the child engaged and designed so that a parent can comfortably conduct the vision screening.”

Harris said making Penny as fun as possible was a valuable ingredient. “We wanted to make the tests manageable for parents, and find ways to blend those into a narrative that was engaging for the kids,” she says. “Try to get a three year old to cover one of their eyes. We get them to put the pirate patch on, so even the narrative we came up for the story was designed to conceal a specific screenings.

“The bit we were really proud of, beyond the ideation, was the commitment to quality. It was a year-and-a-half long journey to get that right: to make sure the end product was at the forefront of what could be done.”

Brand ambassador and mother of two Sophie Falkiner says she understands the need for regular check-ups and the importance of eye health. “Children, especially young kids, may not know or are afraid to speak up if they’re having difficulties with their vision so it’s up to parents to notice the signs and symptoms,” the TV star says. “Penny the Pirate provides parents with the opportunity to spend quality time with their children whilst doing something positive for their health.”

The former eye care director at OPSM, Grant Fisher, said Penny was the first device to help parents screen their children’s vision. “Eighty per cent of children’s learning is visual, however our research has shown that a large percentage of parents are unaware of the importance and frequency of eye testing for their children and are oblivious to the adverse effects that neglecting eye tests could have on their children.”

The launch of Penny the Pirate immediately led to parents booking an extra 500,000 eye tests, helping diagnose up to 125,000 children with a previously unknown vision problem. OPSM says the number of eye tests have risen 22.6 per cent year-on-year. Penny is now being used by not-for-profit organisation OneSight to help test children’s eyes in remote and rural Australia.

“In the past, treatments weren’t available that could correct vision problems,” Fisher said. “Now, if detected at a young age, most vision problems can be corrected with simple treatments, including eye exercises or wearing low prescription glasses for a short period of time.”

Penny has brought home plenty of booty for her hearties. Not only did it win four Cannes Lions, it was crowned the most effective campaign in the world in the Warc 100 rankings in March 2016.

The complete Penny the Pirate kit is available for free at OPSM stores across Australia, as well as in app form, in iOS and Android. The associated website has instructional videos and detailed explanations for parents to follow when using the kit.

In Waldron’s colourful world, the “exceptionally bad sailor” Penny skippers The Mighty Pickle and finds the treasure. But the real winners are parents, who have Penny to thank for a greater understanding of their child’s eye health.

Links & references

OPSM’s Penny the Pirate page

Mumbrella on Warc 100 award

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