Marketing Magic: Permobil Wins Telly Awards, Attention for Innovative Campaigns


Rehab and assistive technology, especially on the very high end, commonly suffers from a bit of an image problem. That's why Permobil's marketing efforts are so notable.

Three promotional videos showing actual Permobil users — including the manufacturer's director of government affairs, Darren Jernigan — have won Telly Awards, given for excellence in commercials, programs, and video and film productions. The program receives more than 12,000 entries every year from around the world.

Permobil's "Child's Play" video won a Silver Telly Award — the highest in the competition — for its portrayal of a young girl engaged in a game of hide-and-seek with friends. Bronze Telly Awards were also presented to Permobil for its Freedom (featuring a would-be college campus streaker) and No Pressure videos (showing Jernigan chatting poolside with a pretty brunette).

The victories put Permobil, headquartered in Lebanon, Tenn., among some pretty powerful peers; previous winners include Hallmark Cards, Paramount Pictures and Toyota.

"It is very exciting to be recognized in such good company," says Permobil's Marketing Manager, Barry Steelman. "I hope it will be good for the industry to get this type of recognition. Maybe it will even change some perceptions of the disability community."

The idea for the video series "originated on a photo shoot for the Permobil catalog," Steelman says. "When we introduced the Street power wheelchair, we wanted to show a streaker at a sporting event. We thought, 'Why not show a wheelchair user doing the same things that able-bodied people do — having a good time?' The creative juices began to flow, and the entire campaign was pretty much brainstormed in that one morning."

The series' inspiration is wheelchair users' everyday lives. "Basically, we wanted to portray a feature of each product in a way that people could relate to, rather than a static and cold feature-and-benefit campaign," Steelman explains. "After all, just because someone is a wheelchair user doesn't mean they don't have the same wants and desires as non-wheelchair users."

For instance, the tilt-and-recline of the C500 Corpus chair was demonstrated by having Jernigan don sunglasses and recline at the same angle as a poolside lounge chair.

The video series isn't the only creative campaign on Permobil's resume. At Medtrade Spring, the Permobil booth included an autographed power chair used by actor James Woods on the hit TV show "ER." Emmy award-winner Woods portrayed a doctor with ALS, and follows his life as the condition progresses.

"The chair used on the set of ER was a C500 Corpus," Steelman says. "For the show, the chair included an eye-response unit provided by Eye Response Technologies. The chair was adjusted to fit James Woods' measurements… The show's writers and producers were very careful to portray the progression of the disease in the most accurate method. Having Mary Lyons from the ALS Association on set was very beneficial to meet this goal."

The ER power chair will be auctioned off at an ALS gala event this fall, and Steelman says, "It is Permobil's desire that the winning bidder donate the chair to their favorite ALS chapter's loan closet."

He calls the Hollywood experience and Permobil's contribution "very rewarding," but Steelman adds that accolades such as the Telly Awards are "the last thing (we) strive for. The first priority is to portray the correct message and to help educate your consumer."

To see what Permobil will be up to next, stop by booth 441 at Medtrade.

This article originally appeared in the August 2006 issue of Mobility Management.

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