Cross over the road my friend? . . . or record events on your camera phone to post on YouTube?


‘Would you walk by on the other side, if someone called for aid? . . .’ goes the Christian hymn that I was forced to sing during primary school assembles. At the time I found it amazing that some people would rather walk on by than consider helping someone, but it seems the adage is more pertinent now, during our increasingly insular existence, than it has ever been before. Why have I come to believe this? . . . Did I witness such a bastard recently? . . . No, but evidence suggests that there are such disreputable people among us. I say this, having pondered the nature of a new NHS campaign designed to heighten awareness about strokes. NHS adverts always fulfil their goal of grabbing my attention, as their morose and depressing messages – smoke and you will die, drink and you will die, do drugs and you will die, etc – stick out like a sore thumb among the depictions of people laughing heartily into one another’s faces with their minty-fresh breath, or frolicking gleefully, enjoying a life without the plight and anxiety of untimely bladder weakness.


The latest NHS ad, however, isn’t designed to reprimand the decadent pleasure seekers; it’s targeted at all of us. The only problem is that the NHS, in trying to raise public consciousness of stroke symptoms, have inadvertently manufactured something incredibly one dimensional and also very scary. On initial viewing I thought I may be watching a trailer for Shaun of the Dead II, but on realising that it was a genuine portrayal of reality, my knee-jerk reaction was to arm myself with a baseball bat and patrol the streets, bludgeoning old people to death lest they inexplicably turn into zombies.


If you haven’t seen it, the advert depicts a man/woman (the one with the woman is somehow more frightening) sat in a public place, quietly having a stroke. It starts with a small fire burning in their forehead (this piece is simulated, otherwise strokes would be very easy to diagnose), before the camera pans in for some extreme close ups of a half paralysed face, a lolling, lifeless arm, glazed, distant eyes and a general appearance of unease. During these scenes the acronym F.A.S.T (Face, Arm, Speech, Time to call 999) is spelt out, which unfortunately bears so little resemblance to the actual nature of the emergency, it is rendered pointless; it took me 10 minutes to remember what it was in order to write this piece – FACE? PACE? FACT? PACT? TUPAC? – during which time, any stroke victim in my company would have surely perished.


At this point I would like to stress that I am not heartlessly mocking stroke victims; I’m just puzzled by the message the advert strives to send out. The first point I would question is the slogan: ‘the faster you act, the more of the person you save’, maybe so, but the only advice they provide to facilitate this is: call 999; presumably, you then wait in a quivering state of agitation, praying that the ambulance is sent post haste and traffic conditions are reasonable. Surely people could benefit from knowing some basic first aid procedures – which do exist – that can be undertaken whilst waiting. The second baffling element is the specific targeting of this niche illness. Obviously the NHS must have found evidence to suggest that the public’s perception of stroke symptoms is so lacking that it is worth the airtime, but considering the multifarious ailments that have even more ambiguous symptoms, I find it hard to believe that it is just stroke victims that are being let down by our collective incompetence; in fact, I actually worry whether it is incompetence that they are being let down by.


When I saw the advert over the weekend, my first thought – after overcoming my terror – was: ‘oh dear, she doesn’t look to well, one of those people should call an ambulance.’ And I would have thought most other people would feel the same way – especially in a real life scenario – but I must be entirely wrong about that point. I assumed that helping someone in trouble was an instinctive natural reaction ingrained within our genetic makeup, but the need to advertise for help, says otherwise. Perhaps this advert is a telling Zeitgeist of the noughties. Maybe, subconsciously, we are all walking on by, oblivious to the troubles on the other side of the road—minding our own business, absorbed in our daily tasks, iPods on, phones to ear, we are less socially aware and, therefore, blind to the needs of our fellow citizens.


I hope my scepticism and belief in the oxymoron of globalized isolation is unfounded and this new campaign promotes awareness and, as a result, saves countless lives. If not, at least the NHS could be considered perspicacious in their development and trial of effective advertising against a post recession zombie banker pandemic.  




Filed under Advertising

7 responses to “Cross over the road my friend? . . . or record events on your camera phone to post on YouTube?

  1. bevan(real)

    I haven’t seen these stroke adverts that you mention but they do sound terrifying and I have seen the static versions of a shadow attacking people on the tube (obviously the thought of being attacked by my shadow is what took my immediate attention, how the fuck do I defend myself against my shadow?), but in any case they do seem to be striving more than ever to highlight this life threatening affliction. One of the main problems if someone has a stroke in front of you is the severity of it and if in fact it is a stroke and not one of the other numerous neural difficulties that you could be faced with. After calling the ambulance do you administer first aid or just move straight on to giving them speech therapy?

    The bigger problem of people “walking on by” is unfortunately not a new one and the modern world is not necessarily to blame. You only have to go back to the well documented case of Kitty Genovase in the sixties which shocked people into researching this particular topic of why don’t people help to see that our society has been affected by this for a long time. Unfortunately if someone falls down in a street crowded with people they are, in general, actually less likely to receive help than if they are in a room with one person. There are a number of reasons for this such as diffusion of responsibility, diagnosis of emergency etc, that none of us are immune to even if we are sure that when the time came we’d be first on the scene to help. In terms of helping being an instinctive genetic reaction, this too has been widely debated. Before he decided to take on God, Richard Dawkins dedicated a lot of time to his theory of “the selfish gene” which states that there is no such thing as a selfless act of altruism, a concept itself that has been argued back and forth for decades and is still going (anything by Batson and colleagues would be the recommended reading). Basically with all the possible factors that inhibit desire to help others I would be happy just to see someone help an old lady across the street let alone if she is suffering a catastrophic aneurysm before their very eyes. In short, I think that the NHS trying to highlight the dangers of a given illness is a good thing, but short of training us all as paramedics and ambulance drivers it is unlikely to make a huge amount of difference.

  2. Peggy

    Thankyou Bevan, for providing scientific grounding to the half arsed, wishy washy, wagering of opinion currency that I deal in.

    Looks like I better get my neuroscience masters before attempting to tackle anything weightier than reality TV.

    P.S If you ever try and undermine me again, I will ‘unapprove’ all your past and future comments.

  3. Paul

    Another thought provoking article, and also response above.

    I saw the stroke advert, and it had a similar impact on myself.

    Can I pick up on your point surrounding why they have chosen this illness: …’The second baffling element is the specific targeting of this niche illness’

    Firstly, as you are an unofficial NHS shareholder (well, with your current contribution, I could question that) and a valid customer (hopefully not a regular) the NHS not only wants you to be healthy, but also wants to save you money.
    Not only the health impacts, but the financial impacts will be consulted and reviewed when running these campaigns. Think of a ‘Cost Benefit Analysis’ from Challis’s geography class.
    Question 1a) ‘Will the cost of building a sea wall be lesser then the value of the village it is saving?’ [5 Marks]

    The sea wall becomes the advertising campaign, and the village becomes the healthcare.
    Diagnosing a stroke sooner can (first and foremost)save the health of an individual, and consequently reduce the cost of healthcare that that individual requires. This may be a contributing factor in selecting an illness for a campaign.

    Further more, Picking up on the line: ‘…but it seems the adage is more pertinent now, during our increasingly insular existence’

    I read this and it raised a question immediately regarding the general perceptions that you currently hold as an individual, or a writer, perhaps.

    You often have empathy with subject matters, a balanced awareness and put forward numerous fair points; and I agree largely with what you type. However, am I wrong in saying that occasionally a sense of perspective and context is sometimes lacking?

    Back to aforementioned quote, I shall ask, Is ‘our’ existence becoming increasingly insular, or are you becoming increasingly insular from our existence?


  4. Cheggers

    No man is an island. Not even you Mr Mitchell.

  5. Ah Pegman, due to unforseen and far from desirable work commitments I’ve been unable to keep up with the alacrity of this posting schedule but as usual a retinal feast lay in wait. Christian Hymns, Tupac and Zombie Banker pandemics all vailed so elegantly over the take home message that stroke victims should be killed with baseball bats. I salute you good sir for the barbaric bravery with which you continue to live your life, utilising your text-based interweb megaphone to speak up for the eternally bray-less public hoard. And despite this newly acquired ape-like derangement you still possess the sesquipedal candor to include the wonderfully lubricious term ‘perspicacious’.
    I have little doubt in my mind that primary school assembles, years from now, will resonate with the name of that loveable quixotic rapscallion, Adam ‘The Goat’ Mitchell 😉

  6. Si

    A very good write as usual. I feel more inadequate every time i read ur blog.
    I feel the advert slightly misleading as i and i am sure many others experience most of these signs on a saturday night. “half paralysed face, a lolling, lifeless arm, glazed, distant eyes and a general appearance of unease” as well as the inability to speak. please dont call the ambulance if u see me in this state, simply shove me into the gutter with the rest!

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