You're standing in front of your bathroom mirror. You decide it's finally time to say goodbye to that mean 'stache you've been sporting for the past six months. You nick yourself shaving and reach for a bandage. Who would have thought that such a small, forgettable incident can now become a life-saving moment?
But it can, with "Help, I Want to Save a Life," the latest addition to Help Remedies' smart, no-frills line of health-care products, and one that 's sure to be showered with design and creative awards. The new kit is little more than a pack of bandages, but unlike the typical box of Band-Aids, it includes an easy-to-use bone-marrow donor kit, through which buyers can become part of a donor registry by sending in a small blood sample.
The new product debuts this week at the TED 2012 Full Spectrum Conference in Long Beach, California, and will also go sale at Fab.com and at the Help Remedies website. The company is also in discussions about distribution with various traditional and non-traditional retailers. "One of the great things about this product is that it is going to fit into places where bandages don't ordinarily go," says Help co-founder Nathan Frank.
The kit seems like a no-brainer for the brand, known for its elegantly simple, no-nonsense approach to over-the-counter medicine, but this particular idea was conceived by Graham Douglas, a copywriter at Droga5, New York.
It was inspired by his twin brother's battle with leukemia -- which fortunately, he won. "My brother was one of the lucky ones," said Mr. Douglas. "I was one of the lucky ones. For every guy like me out there, there's another one who doesn't have a brother anymore. I've never been able to shake that ."
The experience led to Douglas' nearly 10-year quest to make the process of finding a bone-marrow donor much simpler. The light-bulb moment came while he was teaching a course at Miami Ad School in Brooklyn. "I do a segment every quarter about lowering barriers of entry to causes, and always use the marrow donor registry issue as an example," he said.
Each year in the U.S., about 10,000 people need a bone-marrow transplant. But because the national marrow registry is one of the most under-represented programs in the world, fewer than half of those people ever find a match. The germ of a solution was hatched during the class, "but the big 'of -fucking-course' moment was when I landed on the concept of pre-packing the marrow registration kits in boxes of bandages -- getting a little DNA from people when it's already coming out of their paper cuts and cheese-grater-related injuries," said Mr. Douglas.
The kit's brilliance is that it transforms the active process of registering for a donor program into a passive and very easy one. "You cut your finger instead of your bagel; you reach for a box of bandages," said Mr. Douglas. "The first thing that comes out is a marrow registry kit. It takes a couple drops of blood and a couple minutes. You're a potential lifesaver by the time you get back to your breakfast."
Great idea, but how do you make it a reality?
Mr. Douglas said from there he started blindly reaching out to companies that produced bandages. From the "big boys," I didn't get much response," he says. "But I have always loved the simple mission of Help Remedies, and the brand seemed like the perfect fit for this simple little idea. So I sent them an email one morning and had a response by the afternoon." And within days Douglas was pitching the idea to Help Remedies' co-founder Frank and Adam Winski, Special Operations.
According to Frank, "I had no idea what to expect when Graham came to meet with us. I had received a brief email from him previously that mentioned he had an idea that could save lives, but little beyond that . Usually when people send us emails telling us they have a great idea, the idea is something like: 'You should do a Help I Have a Hangover kit. That would be funny,' so this was something different. I was immediately impressed with the simplicity of the idea, how it worked with human behavior instead of against it. This is probably the main thing we try to do as a brand, which is why I think it matched up with us so perfectly." But even then, "honestly, I thought there was very little likelihood that we would be able to execute it logistically or legally, but there was no reason not to try," Frank says.
Good thing they did. Turns out that Winski, who eventually oversaw the initiative, had recently met with someone at DKMS, the world's largest bone marrow donor center. After reaching out, Winski found the center to be cautiously enthusiastic, as the program would require some adjustments to the registration process. "They suggested slight changes to the program that would have made it much easier for them to process donations," says Frank. "We went back and forth a bit, but luckily, in the end they were flexible and accommodating enough to deal with our stubborn personalities." In the end, "all of the processes that this program required miraculously turned out not to be insurmountable obstacles."
Overall, one of the biggest challenges was that the kit needed to use blood as the means for donor matching, rather than the more widely-utilized swab of the cheek. "The lab had to do some testing, but within a few weeks came back and said it was possible," says Winski. Another roadblock was the vehicle through which samples were sent to DKMS. Help's in-house engineer conceived a new long flap/double seal envelope that DKMS could open without jeopardizing the contents.
As for the marketing, Help will soon debut a video, created with Life Long Friendship Society, Frank's former advertising partner Paul Caiozzo (previously at Twofifteen McCann) and Douglas. It will explain the product idea with the offbeat humor that has characterized the brand's marketing. Douglas himself appears in it, playing the part of talking bloody knife. "We thought it was important that our partnership did not take the lecturing tone of a typical product and charity partnership," says Frank.
Now that the the idea has been realized, it will be interesting to see if the once unresponsive bigger pharmaceutical companies will follow suit. "I'd love to see this in every package of bandages ever made," says Douglas. "The marrow donor registry is a numbers game -- the more people that are on the database, the more matches found, and the more lives saved. I really think that finding a bone marrow match should be as easy as finding a blood match. There's no excuse."
Outside of raising donor numbers, "I also really hope this idea dismantles some of the misconceptions about bone marrow registration and donation," Douglas says. "Most people think that you have to go through torture to register for the marrow donor program, but it really couldn't be simpler. It's a drop of blood, or a cheek swab, and you're on a list that could save thousands of lives."