Multiple Sclerosis Society, Holland: television commercial



SOFII's view

This remarkable television commercial is so powerful it stops the viewer in his/her tracks. Yet not a word is spoken, the message is entirely conveyed in movements, gestures and looks, while in the background we listen to the hauntingly beautiful Eric Clapton song, ‘You look wonderful tonight’. The result is simply riveting. Fundraising rarely gets to be this pure.

In case you are wondering, the text at the end, in Dutch, says ‘Multiple Sclerosis: it destroys the nerves’.

Medium of communication:
Broadcast and television.

Type of charity:

Target audience:

Country of origin:

Name of exhibitor:
Maxine Delahunty/SOFII’s Homeless section

Date of first appearance:

Not much is known about this commercial. If anyone involved in its making cares to contact SOFII we’d be delighted to present a more detailed and up-to-date exhibit.


This a brilliant use of television, a courageous creative presentation of the personal impact of a devastating disease. It will be instructive for anyone working in a similar field and many others too.

Wow! I agree with you. It was

Wow! I agree with you. It was truly heart touching. No person can stop himself from contributing after watching this commercial. And this is for a good cause. I am happy to be part of this cause and appreciate the organizers.


In an interview with a Dutch newspaper (NRC Handelsblad) the maker of the commercial calls it a success (Raymond Verwijk, director of the Amsterdam based ad agency High Involvement. The same commercial was used by MS society's in 5 other countries.

It all depends on the reason

It all depends on the reason for the message. It was made to tell the story of how MS can affect people so as to motivate people to give to help find the cure, this is a brilliant TV spot.

I worked for an organisation

I worked for an organisation that provided care for people living with later stages MS (amongst other things). Some residents and families wanted everyone to know everything about MS, to show people what they were no longer able to do, and how the charity helped them to continue to do things they couldn't otherwise. Others wanted no involvement, to hide away from everyone, and to talk to no-one about MS. I suspect that broadly the former would have liked this ad, and the latter would have hated it. One person's 'rag doll' is another's 'through the pain, and despite a lack of mobility, we can still dance'.

Despite living in an area with high MS rates, I regularly encountered people who had no idea about it, and this video would have helped get an appreciation of some of the issues that affect some people, some of the time.

Should it be under 'best'? Well considering we know so little about it I'd probably say no. Did it work, did it meet its objectives? But I *personally* think it is powerful visually, it takes an image and forces you to reevaluate it (maybe more than once).

Multiple Sclerosis Society, Holland: television commercial

I agree with Ken's comments and would like to add another one: perhaps the difference in perception is the result of cultural differences. The commercial is from the Netherlands but I dare say its emotional impact is very strong throughout Europe. Maybe in the US, with more of a "stand up and fight when you're down" attitude it would be perceived differently. (I'm not making any judgement here about attitudes on either side of the Atlantic!). Beyond that, the couple are actually doing something: they are dancing, and that includes the woman, although she can't do it on her own. But what she can do is share a loving moment with her companion in spite of MS. I really don't see what's offensive about that.

On the other hand, I agree with Molly that results figures in relation to the established objectives would be interesting to see.

Someone else mentioned that the commercial is old fashioned. Well, it should be pointed out that it is over 12 years old. As for the comment "it speaks of nothing to no-one in particular": it doesn't? Or rather, does it need to say more? If you didn't know what MS is, it seems to me that after seeing the commercial you have a pretty good idea of what sort of thing its about.



I agree and disagree...

Melvyn - I think you might be onto something with the cultural differences. I wondered about that myself.

But, I've got to disagree with your comment that "after seeing the commercial you have a pretty good idea of what sort of thing [MS is] about."

MS is an incredibly unpredictable disease that affects every person very differently. So by showing one person with one symptom, this commercial teaches dangerously little about what MS is about.

Now, if it were part of a series of commercials that each showed a different person with MS with a different situation, followed by a call to action to go to a website and learn more... then I think it would be a valuable commercial.

Thanks everyone for jumping in on the discussion of this video. I found all of the different perspectives very interesting.

Another view

I have MS. I work every day and travel whenever I can, so I am productive and active. Dancing is my favorite activity and I have been blessed to still be able to dance when in remission, but as the years go on, the relapses are more frequent, and my ability to dance and even walk for any distance is diminishing. Most of my friends have only recently realized that I have mobility problems, because I have been able to hide it by making myself scarce when I am in a relapse. I haven't announced the fact that I have MS, but have started to tell people close to me because they have witnessed my increased difficulty in walking and balance problems. My initial response to seeing this ad, was of course, emotional based on my own fears about the progression of my disease. It brought me to tears. Then I thought, this ad makes it so clear that MS is a serious disease. Many people don't know how debilitating it can be for some. I have heard the statement "MS isn't so bad. Why, I've heard about people with MS who run marathons," more than once from a non-MS patient when they learn that I have it. Others have asked, "Doesn't MS just make you really tired?" MS is very different for each patient. There can be loss of cognitive functioning as well, which I also have. My husband has been a rock though the course of my disease. He has dealt with the changes that MS has brought to our lives with grace. As far as the dignity issue, I can see my husband and I in that same loving embrace, dancing, even if my legs would no longer cooperate. I'm not there yet, but if that time comes, I would not feel a loss of dignity. I would instead feel that he was maintaining my dignity, using his strength to allow us to do what we love to do! I can undertand that the ad might be offensive to some, but for me, I am in agreement that it makes a powerful statement. It might motivate the viewer to learn more about MS.


Another view

Thanks G. Anne for a perceptive and very moving addition to this useful debate. Thanks too to all other commenters. This conversations shows how much readers can add to the information on SOFII, for the benefit of all. Please keep the comments coming!


I'm pretty sure as people who deal with complaints occasionally, the best fundraisers know that the first response to a complaint should never infer that the person complaining is in a minority of one. I don't have MS, (so I shouldn't know?) and I consider this ad to be old-fashioned, and reasonably pointless, it speaks of nothing to no-one in particular. For people who don't know MS, it illustrates nothing.

I'd like to be counted as the second person to complain about this video, and the first to complain about Ken Burnett's rather testy response.


As a fundraiser, I don't understand why this is included in the showcase, considering there is no evidence to show that it accomplished its goals (whatever they were).

As a person with MS, I find the ad a bit offensive. I'd much rather see a person with MS doing something, despite their disease, rather than being carried around like a rag doll. Maintaining a sense of independence and dignity is crucial for people with chronic diseases, and this ad does not portray that at all.

I really, really like SOFII, and there's a ton of really helpful and interesting information here. Thank you so much for making it available. But I'd like to see more hard evidence (response rates, impact) and less speculation ("the result is simply riveting"... what does that mean?).


Response of behalf of SOFII

This exhibit has been on SOFII for a long time now and this is the first negative comment we’ve had. I had not realised that there was anything offensive in this ad at all. I see what Molly means, and of course she has MS so she should know. So it’s very difficult to take a different point of view. But obviously the Dutch MS Society did take a different view.

Simply riveting means exactly what it says. I have shown that commercial often as an example of communicating without words. It brings a hush. And a lump to people’s throats. It is very powerful television. For people who don’t know MS, it’s very powerful and poignant.

Independence and dignity are of course important but they are not mutually exclusive. Some people unable to move their legs can nevertheless live lives of at least some independence and dignity. And as far as I am aware, some people with MS cannot move their legs, or at least, cannot dance.

So I don’t feel that this commercial is misleading. Particular as it is only visual and the final caption line simply says that it destroys the nerves.

It is on SOFII because it is a singular and powerful piece of communication. It is also an award-winning commercial. The exhibit says

'This a brilliant use of television, a courageous creative presentation of the personal impact of a devastating disease. It will be instructive for anyone working in a similar field and many others too'.

I think that remains valid. We are not suggesting that anyone should directly copy it.

Molly’s view is a very valid one too but I’m sure it is not the only view. As the exhibit says, not a lot is known about this commercial. But one thing we do know is that it is a powerful visual statement. Hopefully Molly’s comment will encourage others to have their say too, so that a balance can be made. I’m gratefully to Molly for letting us see another side of this exhibit.

Ken Burnett.
SOFII's managing trustee.

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