Cannes Creative Showcase: Johnson & Johnson puts nurses in the spotlight

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Scenes from the documentary 5B (clockwise, from top left): Cliff Morrison with a patient in the 1980s, a plaque memorialising Ward 5B and Morrison at work.

The Malaysian Prime Minister just announced that the nationwide Movement Control Order (MCO) that was supposed to end on 31 March, has been extended until 14 April, due to the daily increase in number of positive Covid-19 cases.

During this time, healthcare professionals are essentially the avengers we see in movies fighting super-villains, which is in this case, the virus itself. We searched through our collection of creative campaigns that featured healthcare professionals and found 2019 Johnson & Johnson campaign executed by UM New York. This specific campaign uncovered the story of nurses on the front lines of the AIDS crisis.


5B is the story of hope and perseverance in the face of despair during the depths of the AIDS crisis in America. But it’s also a story of San Francisco itself, the hub of a thriving gay community and the location of Ward 5B, built by the heroic nurses who lovingly labored within its halls.

From creation through distribution, 5B immerses itself fully in the city of San Francisco. Priority was placed on authentically shooting contemporary portions of the film inside Ward 5B before it was demolished, as well as in the San Francisco Public Library where the records of those who died in Ward 5B during the AIDS crisis are kept.

The film premiered at the Castro Theater, a location steeped in the rich history of San Francisco’s LGBTQ community and the site of the yearly San Francisco LGBTQ Film Festival.


Johnson & Johnson recognizes the critical role played by frontline healthcare professionals in optimizing patient outcomes through quality medical care and life-changing emotional connections. It’s why for over 25 years, J&J has heavily invested in the treatment and eventual eradication of HIV/AIDS through cutting edge advancements in therapeutic medicine, via NGO partnerships in communities around the globe, and by standing alongside those who battle the disease first-hand.

As well, Johnson & Johnson has been a deeply engaged advocate of Nurses for over 132 years and regularly seeks to celebrate the groundbreaking health advances that nurses initiate every day.

Unearthing the poignant story of Ward 5B would serve as a powerful opportunity to connect J&J to the transformational advancements in HIV care, showcase its support of the nursing community, and celebrate the humanity so deeply valued within the company as it continues to change the trajectory of healthcare for humanity.


Society does not give nurses the credit they deserve as highly skilled frontline healthcare professionals who combine medical knowledge with human compassion to change patient outcomes.

The agency involved, UM New York examined the cause of this misconception and found that the portrayal of nurses in popular culture as mere assistants to doctors at best and a source of derision at worst, negatively affected society’s perception of the nursing profession. In fact, according to the agency, they could not find any stories that positioned nurses as heroic protagonists.

UM New York would change the perception of nurses by producing premium film and TV projects that portrayed nurses as they rightfully should be. However, to position nurses as heroes they had to find a worthy villain. When they unearthed the story of the nurses of Ward 5B, who emphasized humanity and holistic wellbeing amid the devastating AIDS crisis, they knew they had found a worthy foe.


5B’s journey to the big screen required determination and ingenuity to transport viewers to a not-so-distant-past that feels like a bygone era – revealing how far society has come in treating HIV/AIDS as well as our treatment of those afflicted with the virus.

The film was greenlit in November 2016 with production beginning the following year. Key shooting of the original ward took place in the months before its scheduled demolition, paired with rescued archival footage previously thought lost. The weight of their advertising spend was used to restore reels of original footage through a painstaking rebaking process. Next, they needed to locate and receive clearance from the principal hospital staff, patients, and their loved ones to share this untold story of unsung heroes with the world.

UM New York’s efforts influenced Hollywood as 20th Century Fox licensed portions of recovered archival 5B footage in the film Bohemian Rhapsody.


5B premiered at the Castro Theater in November 2018, an iconic landmark of San Francisco’s LGBTQ community, with an expectation to fill the theater’s orchestra section. However, due to overwhelming interest, the balconies and mezzanine were opened to accommodate a sold-out screening.

They surveyed audiences across multiple screenings before and after the film. After watching 5B, audiences were more likely to describe nurses as:

• Heroic +12.2%

• Innovative +21.8%

• Skilled +7.6%

The film was selected for screening at the Cannes Film Festival, the first-ever brand-funded film to receive such an honor. 5B will begin a run of screenings, starting in Los Angeles, at PRIDE celebrations in 17 markets across the country.

The success of the film’s festival run led to its acquisition for distribution by Verizon to be released in 400 cinemas across the U.S. followed by a global cinematic release.

MARKETING magazine is the Official Cannes Lions Festival Representative for Malaysia.

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