Permobil's New Ads Celebrate "Freedom" of Mobility


What do you think of when you think of power chairs? Bathing beauties by the pool? Bathing-suit-less hunks pursued by police?

If Permobil's new ad campaign works, you will. In a series of print ads and videos, the power chair manufacturer shows real end-users in purportedly everyday situations.

"We really didn't set out to be funny, as much as we wanted to show a wheelchair user just enjoying life," Barry Steelman, who heads Permobil's marketing efforts. "That is what Permobil is really all about: getting people back into the life they want to have."

Still, the humor quotient is high in the initial two ads. The first — called "No Pressure" — shows government affairs director Darren Jernigan tilted back by a pool as a pretty brunette smiles at him and a waiter delivers a drink. The second ad — titled "Freedom" — depicts a would-be streaker (Steelman says the Permobil user/model was actually clad, if only scantily) twirling swim trunks over his head as appreciative coeds look on and a cop chases him.

"The concept for the Freedom ad has been something I wanted to do since we introduced the Street power wheelchair (at Medtrade 2003), and the rest of the campaign kind of grew from there," Steelman says. "When we introduced the Street, we wanted to show its quickness and agility, and how it could handle some pretty rough terrain. We also wanted it to be very memorable."

Subsequent ads will tout other Permobil products, including its pediatric line. To date, the campaign has required photo shoots literally from coast (San Diego) to coast (Miami).

And there were, Steelman deadpans, "our share of outtakes." In the "No Pressure" ad, the waiter dropped his tray of drinks on the first take. As for the streaker, filmed at the University of Miami — "We did have campus security wanting to know about a naked guy in a wheelchair causing a disturbance," Steelman says. "Apparently, they got some frantic phone calls. We had several young ladies with their camera photos trying to get a shot of our model. It was really entertaining."

So are the ads, though Steelman acknowledges a bigger agenda. "This campaign will be successful if we can reach the end-user and educate them about some of the benefits available for their health and well-being," he says. "Most people don't understand the benefits of certain features, and that is what we are trying to accomplish with this campaign. We just want people to know what's available for their mental and physical health."

To see the commercials and outtakes, go to The videos will be playing in Permobil's booth (#917) at Medtrade Spring.

A Star Is Born
Now you know what Darren Jernigan does when not lobbying Congress or talking to RNs about Medicaid. He's catching rays...and chicks.

Jernigan — Permobil's director of government affairs and a Permobil C500 user — appears in a new ad showing Permobil clients living their lives. For Jernigan, that life apparently is alive and well in South Miami Beach, where he shot his ad. The ad shows a brunette smiling at him as she lounges by a pool, he reclines in a C500, and a waiter brings drinks. In the video, as the waiter arrives, Jernigan gives a lazy wave of his arm to tell him to put the drinks on a poolside table.

So what was it like to be the "talent"? "I'd be lying there," Jernigan says, "and (the director) would say, 'Action!' And I waved my hand a little bit, and he'd say, 'Okay, relax.'

"I'd think, 'I can't feel the difference between the two.'"

Nevertheless, Jernigan apparently found his motivation, and the shoot was a success. Of his turn in front of the cameras, he surmises, "I imagine it was a little bit easier to do than streaking in a chair."

This article originally appeared in the April 2005 issue of Mobility Management.

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