Inspiration & Insight From Hill Holliday Creative Director

Dave Banta, EVP and Group Creative Director at Hill Holliday shared some powerful insights during a phone interview about the Liberty Mutual campaign that I’ve also blogged about in the past two posts. Dave’s background spans more than 25 years in advertising at different agencies across the country, he’s been creative director on Liberty Mutual’s account for 3 ½  of his 4 ½ years at Hill Holliday.

Did you get any pushback – either internally or from the client?
“There was a little anxiety – when we do these things we do them with the best
intentions – we do these things to make a point that is true. We wanted an accurate
story. You have to ask yourself – are you leveraging a person with disability to make a brand look good? i.e. using her disability to make ourselves look better in the commercial or are we making an accurate real commercial.”

How did you and your team conceive of the idea?
“Liberty Mutual’s platform is responsibility so the idea is to celebrate the customers’
responsibility while sharing the company’s own – service – treating customers the way they need to. As a company and brand the campaign says that Liberty Mutual is standing up during this era of corporate malfeasance.

The responsibility idea originated with the first spot – small acts add up to make a difference – this kind of pay it forward spot – one person does a responsible act and another person witnesses / participates and does their own responsible thing and it comes full circle.

We ran that ad and it got traction – the company was very selflessly putting out this
message of responsibility among the category’s clutter of spots among examples including telling people they could save $400 in 15 minutes.

The Election ad with Teal Sherer took one person who is responsible and followed only her throughout the ad – this person has every excuse to not do her civic duty but she continues on regardless and votes – where able bodied people potentially would be apathetic. The thought is the viewer would watch that and with only one person’s story in the ad, viewers would pay it forward and create a virtual circle connecting back to the responsible act in the commercial.

After testing we found out that people still like seeing the multiple people’s interaction / circle acted out so we did more of those spots and now you see the sight impaired woman in the Liberty Mutual spot.”

What sparked this creative idea?
“Including the woman in the spot came from a personal experience. I take the train everyday into Boston and I usually ride in the same passenger car as a blind man along with his seeing eye dog. What surprises me every day is the people who help him AND those who don’t. Some people will help him through doors and offer him a seat and some won’t. Thinking about paying forward the responsibility theme, it’s also interesting to watch reactions of people when they see others assisting him – or watching people’s reactions to those that don’t. We weren’t making judgements – there are people who will step up and help people eregardless of any circumstance they do the right thing.”

What got you to come back to Liberty Mutual with another PWD in this most recent spot?
“For Liberty Mutual, we’ve always tried to accurately represent the target audience and that is everybody and being inclusive is just about accurately representing the target

How come more advertising isn’t inclusive of people with disabilities?
“Sometimes people think companies are using people with disabilities, PWD’s, just to leverage emotion for personal brand benefit for the corporation. People ask the question – are we taking advantage of the disability for emotions to sell a product?

There are innovative, contemporary companies out there that build there brands around risk and then there are the majority of risk averse and I think they look at the legal implications and they shy away from it and then there is an implication to the product that potentially may be negative. Anytime you put out an ad it is a risk – because there is no universal acceptance people may criticize it. We believed we were doing it with the best intentions regardless of their disability.

You want to be true to people who are watching the commercial – a lot of times
clients want aspirational worlds of perfection. There is this fantasy world where people can watch where no one really exists. I like to be true and real with storytelling – so I think if you are going to be accurately representing the population then you should include everybody and PWD’s are part of that. Diversity isn’t just in the big cities – it’s in small towns, it’s everywhere.”

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Liberty Mutual’s Responsibility Revolution

I believe advertising can start a revolution. After interviewing Teal Sherer and getting her take as an actor in the commercial, I was fortunate enough to interview Jennifer Anderson, Marketing Manager with Liberty Mutual, who shared more insights from the advertiser’s perspective.

Prior to hiring Teal, Jennifer mentioned that her team worked with a non-profit media organization to ensure that the disability would be portrayed correctly and with as much realism as possible. The team at Liberty Mutual also made the decision to hire a person with disability, PWD, actor as opposed to a fully able actor portraying a PWD. “We were overwhelmed by Teal’s response and participation. Teal worked with our team and the agency to share how she really went through her daily routine – capturing for us every detail.”

Jennifer says that “The goal of the TV ad was to align Liberty Mutual and the value of doing the right thing – which may not be the easy thing – regardless of ability.”

Jennifer went on to inform me about a new Liberty Mutual brand ad and inclusion of a PWD within one of their newest commercials. Here, you’ll see the spot, which features a blind woman – whom Liberty Mutual did cast a blind woman – and her experiences and interactions with others on her daily commute. Working with the Braille Institute, Jennifer and her team made sure that the spot incorporated the same attention to detail as the earlier ‘Election’ by including the right kind of guidance stick. Below is a link to the commercial.

Jennifer informed me that the initial idea was sparked by Liberty Mutual’s advertising agency, Hill Holliday. “We loved the idea and we wanted to make sure that when including someone with a disability we showed them as very capable. Even with things that made the situation in the ad a little more challenging -  such as the rain, waiting at a bus stop, gated access to the voting site – that these challenges could be overcome.”

“When Hill Holliday presented the concept for the latest ad, we were excited.  Again, we wanted to ensure that the people we cast are real and in real situations. We want it to be true to life. It was very rewarding to be in touch and to learn about a person with a disability’s daily life and to portray it in a way that doesn’t convey weakness. Instead, we were sure to depict someone going through everyday routines with pride and responsibility.”

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Teal Sherer Actress & Advocate

I had the privilege to interview Teal Sherer, to learn how she brings conviction, visibility and voice to both her career in acting and support of disability inclusion and awareness. Originally from Lenoir City, Tennessee, Teal is an L.A. based actor, producer, and activist for performers with disabilities. Her film, TV, online and theatre work includes the Emmy Award-Winning HBO Film Warm Springs, starring Kenneth Branagh, I’m With Stupid an NBC series developed by The Farelly Brothers and on-stage performances with, among others, Dustin Hoffman. Closer to main the theme of this blog centering on advertising and disability, in 2008 Teal starred in the highly acclaimed Liberty Mutual commercial, Election.

Teal shared that the casual and conversational audition for the commercial carried over into the production and many subtle moments within the spot. Wanting to keep the commercial authentic, the production team took Teal’s lead on key aspects. With no dialogue, Teal conveys a relaxed, yet determined mindset as she moves through typical life moments along her path toward the final scene of her voting.

“It was kind of like a short film and it was really exciting to be a part of such a great message  -something groundbreaking. You rarely see people with disabilities in advertising so to see someone with a disability in the lead of a commercial is nice,” says Teal. She goes on to say that “It has a cool simplicity to it. As a disabled person I’m not overcoming some big obstacle, but it shares an authentic, normal part of my day, just like any other day.”

Teal’s advocacy efforts include participation as a member of the Screen Actors Guild Performers with Disabilities Committee and the I AM PWD campaign. Recently her involvement included a panel discussion on redefining disability in the media and shared that:

“If we’re not in the media how do people know we exist?  Media in whatever form – movies, TV shows, online series and advertising can open your eyes to disability, but a lot of people don’t think about including disability and it is left out of discussions of diversity and minorities. Shows may be ethnically diverse but I think a lot of time disability gets left out. Media affects society more than anything else. It is our gateway to other people and situations and circumstances and disability needs to be a part of it.”

“People may think that it will be a hassle to accommodate us on set or have other fears that we are sick, in pain – often disability has negative associations. In fact, disability often doesn’t complicate life – it is just one way of how we are different. Interactions with a person with disability doesn’t require someone to say ‘I’m sorry’ or ‘I hope you get better.’ You can have a fabulous, whole life, travel all around the world and play sports and do more than some able-bodied people – disability is not a bad thing.”

To find out more about Teal visit her website at

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Advertising, Disability and Apple

A blind person interacts with the new iPhone 4S via Siri

With the news of Steve Jobs passing, I among many others, and those in the advertising industry are mourning. Advertising and Apple are intertwined, in the design and branding of the storied computer giant – and in the computers that are the tools used to design the stories of brands.


You probably have read about the iPhone 4S and Siri, which according to Apple’s website:

lets you use your voice to send messages, schedule meetings, place phone calls, and more. Ask Siri to do things just by talking the way you talk. Siri understands what you say, knows what you mean, and even talks back. Siri is so easy to use and does so much, you’ll keep finding more and more ways to use it.

This short video from Apple shares several vignettes where people interact with the iPhone 4S and Siri – my favorite is the last slice-of-life example.

Truly groundbreaking, this device moves well beyond the earlier, yet still impressive, iPhone accessibility options. For many People with Disabilities (PWD’s), this new software integration will create more connections and opportunities. Although still to early to predict the full impact of Siri, for PWD’s it won’t be just a niche component added to a not so upgraded iPhone. I believe that Siri is a revolutionary tool that will herald more technology breakthroughs allowing for universal design and inclusive benefit for PWD’s and those with full abilities.

You probably have a favorite TV commercial if you are reading this blog and part of the advertising world. If this isn’t your top pick – it should be up there. In 1984, this cinematic masterpiece directed by Ridley Scott and appearing only once, launched both Apple’s Macintosh and denizens of devoted followers.

Steve Jobs’ entrepreneurial innovations, higher design aesthetic and mantra to think differently will continue on. If you consider it, those innovations, design aesthetic and ability to think differently are part of an everyday mindset for People with Disabilities.

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Start At Home, Rebuild Together & Recognize Disability

If you became disabled, could you continue living in your house? I was fortunate enough to find out first-hand about an organization coming to my community that would provide insights and assistance toward answering that question.

HGTV, together with the support of Scripps Networks Interactive and the City of Knoxville, are bringing a local chapter of Rebuilding Together to this community. The kick off event held at Scripps headquarters brought representatives from Rebuilding Together, show hosts, community leaders, media and people with disabilities (including myself) together to learn more about these great opportunities ahead for those in need in the Knoxville housing community.

Rebuilding Together is the nation’s leading nonprofit working to preserve affordable homeownership and revitalize communities. The organization’s network of more than 200 affiliates provides free rehabilitation and critical repairs to the homesof low-income Americans. Rebuilding Together believes in a safe and healthy home for every person. This means that we believe disabled and aging homeowners should be able to remain in their homes for as long as possible.

Josh Loebner, Advertising & Disability blogger (left) and Gary Officer, President & CEO of Rebuilding Together

“Helping to launch a local affiliate of Rebuilding Together gives our employees a chance to participate in our national philanthropic cause and truly ‘Start at Home’ by making a difference in our own community,” said Jim Samples, president of HGTV in a recent press release.

Josh Loebner (left) and Stephanie Cook is the City of Knoxville’s Disability Services Coordinator and liaison to the Mayor’s Council on Disability Issues.

Advertising goes well beyond traditional media placements in magazines or TV spots to also incorporate experiential branding – such as in-store experiences and interactions with employees. Lowe’s, a strong supporter of Rebuilding Together, and, according to the National Organization on Disability (NOD) has a long-time commitment to hiring people with disabilities and utilizes both and the public vocational rehabilitation network to build awareness of the company’s job opportunities for people with disabilities. “We draw on the strength of collaboration, bringing together many unique individuals in the workplace and the community to better meet the needs of our employees and our customers. “At Lowe’s, inclusion means creating a place where everyone has the opportunity to grow and succeed.” – Steve Szilagyi, Senior Vice President

Lowe's and Rebuilding Together® have successfully completed more than 350 rebuilding projects together since 2007.

With community outreach efforts such as the Rebuilding Together initiative, HGTV’s tagline ‘Start At Home’ is coming to life for many people with disabilities. Advertisers as well as the networks have an opportunity to foster integration within programming, commercials and other brand platforms. You can help to recognize disability by starting at home and rebuilding together.

One in five Americans is disabled – but one in five ads isn’t inclusive. You can help bring visibility and voice to this rarely discussed topic. Please share this post with five others.

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Disability, Social Justice & The Power of Creativity

‘Justice for all’ are three words we, as Americans, solemnly pledge, affirming our allegiance to country and community. But when it comes to social justice for people with disabilities, there is still a wide gap.

Academy Award winning actress Marlee Matlin shares her voice in this video on struggles of people with disability and social justice.

This social justice isn’t for just a few thousand in a small minority on one part of the planet. People with disabilities are the largest minority market in the world.
People with disabilities are the fasted growing minority population in the world.
There are over 50 million people with disabilities in the U.S.
The disabled minority surpassed the US Hispanic population by 5 percent this year.
One out of every five people in America is disabled. More than likely, though, one out of every five ads is not inclusive. Staggering numbers of people with disabilities are out there – seamlessly integrated and living in our society, yet silently ignored and still considered on the fringe by advertisers. Though people with disabilities have physical or mental differences, they still clips coupons and shops at the grocery store, carpools with coworkers, enjoys dinner with friends and owns a home. I may be missing an eye and severely visually impaired, but sometimes I think I see more clearly that so many others – that people with disabilities cannot be ignored. It’s more than OK to feature them in advertising – it’s needed and it’s time.

Social justice is for everyone and can be achieved with creativity. “Creativity has the power to transform human behavior.” This is the new belief of Leo Burnett worldwide.
Leo Burnett’s CEO Tom Bernardin, and creative director Mark Tutssel wrote the book HumanKind to share the new focus of the agency and it’s people.

HumanKind is not about advertising or brand propositions or selling products, but a story about people, purpose, and changing behavior. It’s a look at marketing that serves true human needs and not the other way around. HumanKind puts laser sharp focus on the infinite power of imagination and its ability to change the way peole think, feel, and ultimately, behave.

When it comes to disability in advertising what matters most isn’t the inclusion of different abilities. Instead, disability in advertising can share what brings us closer together. Our human bond is what unites us. . . with justice for all.

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Transformational Tea Kettles

How can something as simple as a new tea kettle design create buzz in advertising and creative industries and become transformational for people with disabilities? In this post’s two examples, Michael Graves and OXO share the power Universal Design is bringing to the disabled community.

It’s universally accepted that the foundation for successful advertising is good design and, for people with disabilities, good design is creating universal acceptance. Many forward-thinking architecture and industrial designers are incorporating a higher aesthetic known as Universal Design and ushering in a new era of inclusion for people with disabilities.

Universal Design, according to Wikipedia refers to broad-spectrum ideas meant to produce buildings, products and environments that are inherently accessible to both people without disabilities and people with disabilities. The term “Universal design” was coined by the architect Ronald L. Mace to describe the concept of designing all products and the built environment to be aesthetic and usable to the greatest extent possible by everyone, regardless of their age, ability, or status in life.

If you’re not familiar with Universal Design, after reading that definition, you may instantly think of sterile spaces like antiquated hospitals, mass produced products “suitable” for everyone and a one-size-fits-all utilitarian mentality, but this is far from what defines these enabling designs.

OXO, according to Wikipedia, was founded by Sam Farber, an entrepreneur in the housewares industry. Noticing that his wife Betsey was having difficulty gripping ordinary kitchen tools due to a slight case of arthritis in her hands, he saw an opportunity to create more comfortable cooking tools that would benefit all users. After years of research, the first group of 15 OXO Good Grips kitchen tools was introduced to the U.S. market in 1990. Now the brand has over 850 products in their line-up. Here’s a keynote video (a bit long – but stay with it) from the 2008 GEL Conference of OXO executive Alex Lee sharing the brand’s design philosophy.

World renowned architect and designer, Michael Graves, able-bodied for most of his life, is now paralyzed from the waist down and he champions Universal Design’s seamless connection between beauty, functionality and disability inclusion. In a recent New York Times article Michael was asked if there was anything positive about being in a wheelchair, which he responded to by stating “I realize how bad the health-care situation is for people, and being a designer I can do what I can do relative to that industry to make it better.” Below are part 1 and 2 of a CBS interview with Michael Graves about his personal challenges.

Target’s website shares that: The Michael Graves Design™ collection for Target represents the shared belief that people instinctively appreciate great design and that it should be affordable and accessible to all.

Michael Graves, OXO and other innovators among architects and industrial designers who are championing this cause are creating tangible, real-world opportunities that are literally gripping to people with disabilities and the larger community. I believe that advertising is a reflection of the best in what we all hope to aspire toward and I’m confident the underlying philosophy of Universal Design can help to better connect advertising and disability.

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Stepping Forward: Advertising & The Amputee Athlete

Copyright Nike

Paralympians Break The Ad Barrier was the title of a BusinessWeek article published in 2008. Just in the recent past, only three years ago, disabled athletes were granted a small advertising foothold of endorsements and sponsorships mostly dominated by gold medal Olympians. Major marketers including Visa and McDonalds, both longtime supporters of disability advocacy and awareness, wove compelling stories of disabled athletes into their general marketing campaigns centered around the 2008 Olympic games. Antonio Lucio, Visa’s chief marketing officer said, “The person we decided to feature, Cheri Blauwet, is not just a Paralympic athlete but an incredible female role model.”

Move ahead one year to an inspiring 2009 TEDtalk by double leg amputee Aimee Mullins. If you are unfamiliar with TED, it’s an acronym name for a series of in-person and online talks centered around Technology, Education and Design. In this particular video, according to TED:

Aimee redefines what the body can be. Her prosthetic legs are a combination of form, function and aesthetic. She encourages designers to change the idea of “disability” and the definition of beauty by bringing their talents to both the science and the art of designing prosthetics. The video lasts approximately nine minutes and I encourage everyone to watch it in it’s entirety.

All of Aimee’s various legs – from the womanly to the whimsical – look truly fantastic. What kind would you have, if there was a choice? With my prosthetic eye, I’ve always envisioned having a few fun “glass eyes” like the Terminator or a smiley face.

Advertising and the Olympics share a common bond of celebrating society’s accepted view of perfection. In the Olympics, perfection, and the difference between winning and losing is often shorter than the timespan between a heartbeat. This behind-the-scenes look at a make-up ad shares how far advertisers go for the ultimate facial perfection.

Now, in 2011, we’re moving beyond major corporations testing the waters of disabled athletes and endorsements to the potential for Oscar Pistorius, seen in the Nike ad above and a missing both legs, competing alongside those with two natural legs. Here’s an excerpt from the CNN article that shares how segregation still exists, at least for many in the disabled minority.

Hugh Herr directs the Biomechatronics Laboratory at MIT, a group responsible for a number of prosthetic innovations, some of which are making it via his own company (iWalk). He said the reactions to Pistorius’ entry into normal sport, from mere hand-wringing to outright disdain and dismay, reveal that we live in a “cell and tissue centric society.” He’s hoping that Pistorius’ high-profile competitions will help move us toward an evolution in social consciousness: accepting the validity and equality of synthetic body parts just as we do different races and genders.

Ford Vox, author of the CNN article states, “Sports represent so much more than a simple form of entertainment; it is a representation of our ideals as a society. Those ideals should include acceptance of the fact that that today, some human disabilities, when fought with enough ingenuity, teamwork, and passion, can become transformative.”

Advertising and disability are taking a step forward with L’Oreal and Nike proudly featuring Aimee Mullins and Oscar Pistorius respectively in their marketing efforts. These two, and millions of people with disabilities in their own way, aren’t letting others place outdated definitions onto their humanity, creativity and passion. There are new messages, strong voices and people ready and willing to share their story, who simply want you to listen and not turn away out of embarrassment or awkwardness, to find out what it means to be disabled.

Today we’re seeing disabled people compete against able-bodied athletes and move well beyond simply participating, to running faster than almost anyone in sports history. As the 2012 Olympics draw near, we’re starting to see glimpses of the five concentric rings emblazoned throughout the advertising world. But the question that begs to be asked is – in the industry where image means everything where will disability fit in?

I believe Oscar Pistorius is a modern-day Jesse Owens, where the once segregated athlete overcame discrimination to achieve greatness and break barriers, and that soon, people with disabilities will be portrayed in advertising on equal footing with everyone else in the world.

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Silent Segregation

“Madison Avenue is full of blue-bloods.” This was the blanket description of the industry’s leaders that a friend provided when I shared that I was going into advertising. Within venerable, established Madison Avenue agencies, an Ivy League diploma, New England upbringing and WASP background helped… and being a minority didn’t. Although never directly discriminated against, it was obvious to see (even for someone more than half blind) that hiring challenges permeated the industry. For the disabled minority, it seemed that ad industry culture fostered a silent segregation in which few advertisers embraced inclusion and fewer agencies integrated diversity.

Don’t be fooled by all this past-tense language into thinking these minority issues were part of the Civil Rights era and creative revolution of the 1960’s. Advertising agency employee discrimination was bluntly highlighted in the fictional TV-series Mad Men when Roger Sterling asks “Have we hired any Jews?” and Don Draper smugly replies “Not on my watch!”

Advertising Age reported in 2006, after finding fault with the diversity-hiring practices at many of the big ad agencies in New York, the Commission on Human Rights signed a memorandum with the firms regarding hiring policies and practices toward improved minority inclusion.

Now 2011, Advertising Age reports:
Sorry State of Diversity In Advertising Is Also A Culture Problem

Cyrus Mehri, an attorney at Mehri & Skalet, who filed charges with the EEOC against the various holding companies and a number of their agencies for discriminatory hiring practices and one of the people behind the Madison Ave. Project, said this is an industry that’s behind the times in terms of diversity hiring. “As a result it’s missing opportunities in terms of talent and business opportunities,” Mr. Mehri said. Mr. Mehri points to a study centered around Super Bowl 2010, which found that of the 60 or so commercials aired during the game, not one of them was captained by a minority creative director. “That’s a shocking revelation,” he said. Rob Norman, CEO of WPP’s Group M North America, said that all of the programs and efforts may never be enough to rectify the problem.

The silent segregation within agencies expands to their clients and muffles the voice of the disabled amongst advertisers. Things are changing for the better, which I’ll blog about further in a future post. Beyond the lawsuit there are efforts to welcome minorities into the creative world. One challenge, though, is that many of these organizations rarely, if at all, include disability amongst represented minority groups.

If you are reading this and already in the ad industry, ask yourself how many minorities you know in the ad business, more specifically, those with disabilities. If you’d like to consider going into our creative profession, and are a minority click on one of these links to learn more about how you can get involved, or contact me directly.

Ideas, creativity and dreams transcend color, gender and ability.

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Advertising & Disability Go Hand In Hand

Belgian amputee, Tanja Kiewitz.

Have you seen the Benz branded bionics? Disability and advertising made it into the headlines of Adweek, one of the industry’s leading news publications, when Matthew James, a 14-year-old British amputee, wrote to Mercedes Benz asking the automaker to help fund a new one. Believe it or not, the German luxury car manufacturer agreed to the offer and granted his wish by paying $57,000 for the digit device. In return, Matthew will advertise for the brand with the all-to-recognizable encircled tri-point logo emblazoned on his prosthetic hand. Exemplifing the advertiser’s efforts toward the best or nothing, this is a great example of how brands can connect with disability in an honest, positive and inclusive way.

Here are two other examples of amputees in advertising and media that received similar headline grabbing attention. The BBC reported that they had received more than 800 complaints after British children’s TV show host Cerrie Burnell appeared on the show. Born without part of her arm, Cerrie can easily share conversations with children when they ask why she’s different. Parents, on the other hand, wrote into the show complaining that they did not want their children viewing ‘imperfection’, and others went so far as to claim their children were terrified when seeing her disability. According to a recent BBC article, Cerrie “says she doesn’t take this personally but these kind of comments highlight the prejudice that disabled people face.” I can’t stress enough how powerful Cerrie’s message is in this video clip.

Belgian amputee, Tanja Kiewitz exposed herself for CAP48, the leading Belgian charity working for the integration of disabled people, in an awareness and fundraising campaign with this message: “Look into my eyes … I said, my eyes.” The image and message were wildly successful with global news coverage. By the way, Tanja is in the advertising industry – she’s a graphic designer.

People with disabilities (I’ve learned the acronym is PWD) are under-represented in advertising and media – both in the ads and behind the scenes as creators. These examples highlight hurdles that still need to be overcome, but also share major achievements that, together (hand-in-hand), advertising and disability can help to overcome obstacles and foster acceptance.

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