Depression, anxiety, suicide: these are heavy issues to tackle in advertising. But as mental health starts to move slowly out of the shadows in Asia, led in particular by campaigns in Australia and New Zealand, more brands—as well as charities and foundations—are starting to think about how they can show people they care.
Some use humour, others make a direct assault on their audience's heartstrings: but these 10 ads below all hit home, we feel, both in terms of the sensitivity and effectiveness of their messages. We've also included one mental-health campaign we feel was a total dud, just to highlight the contrast.
Client: Mpower Minds
Agency: Team Famous Innovations
Timed for release with this year’s World Suicide Prevention Day, this social campaign from Indian mental health association Mpower Minds hopes to remind viewers of the importance of listening and reading ‘signs’ in preventing suicide. Well-produced and hard-hitting, the film has already had over 40,000 views on YouTube.
2. ‘Believe in Change’
Client: APS (Australian Psychological Society)
Agency: Cummins & Partners
“There are many paths we have to walk in life, but none of them have to be walked alone.” We like the way that the central message behind this Cummins & Partners ad, released on 1 March this year in response to the finding that just 45 percent of Australians with a mental health issue seek assistance, shows a keen understanding of the many everyday events that can throw a person off track. It also highlights the range of services offered by APS psychologists—and makes the idea of seeking help much less threatening. The spot received over 50,000 views on YouTube.
Client: Mirinda India
Agency: BBDO India Gurgaon
An Indian student commits suicide every hour due to exam pressure, according to a 2012 Lancet report, with parental intervention a key source of stress. Fizzy drink brand Mirinda released this campaign in February this year, a month before annual exams, hoping to give students a voice by urging them to write open letters to their parents. #ReleaseThePressure has been enormously successful, with 35 million video views in a month and 193 media articles, as well as a 1100 percent rise in consumer engagement for the brand. It also won a bronze award for PR at Spikes 2017.
4. ‘Suicide notes talk too late’
Client: The Movember Foundation
Agency: Cummins & Partners
This ad is probably one of the most powerfully affecting you’ll ever see, featuring men reading out lines from their suicide notes. The spot was launched on Worldwide Suicide Prevention Day 2016 (September 10) and hoped to shine an urgent spotlight on the issue of male suicide. It has notched up just under a million views on YouTube since its release.
5. ‘R U OK?’
Client: Suicide prevention charity R U OK?
Agency: Fusion, WPP AUNZ
This large computerised question mark ‘character’ is called Quentin, and was passed around Australia for a year from September 2016 in a bid to initiate conversations around mental health. People who met Quentin could shake it to be issued with an ‘R U OK? Challenge’—anything from ‘Take someone you'd like to spend more time with out for a coffee’ to ‘Go give a mate or relative a big hug’—or communicate with it via text. So far, Quentin has travelled 21,331 kilometres, delivered 13,255 challenges, and started over 500,000 conversations. Not quite the million they were aiming for, but it's a start.
6. 'We have a mental health problem'
Client: Philippine Psychiatric Association
Agency: Dentsu Jayme Syfu
The quavering string soundtrack, the black background, the intense closeups: this 2016 spot from the Philippines brings a powerful and unexpected message. The 'mental health problem' in question? "We still do not have laws to protect the rights of mental health sufferers" state the ad's cast, calling for support to get the first Mental Health Act passed in their country. The campaign saw a 60 percent rise in petition signatures in the first six weeks and sparked nationwide discussions about the importance of a mental health law.
7. 'The Healing Exam'
Client: EBS (South Korea’s Education Broadcasting Network)
Agency: Cheil Worldwide
This film from February 2016 shows Korean students—whether real ones or actors is not revealed—taking their SATs (Scholastic Aptitude Test), a hugely important exam that represents the culmination of all their educational efforts to date and is known to be the source of much stress and depression. Korea ranks first in educational stress among all UNICEF nations, according to the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs.
To help boost spirits and send a message that “students lives cannot be judged by scores”, as Cheil’s creative director Sungjun Park put it, the EBS asked parents to write letters of encouragement to their children, which were then inserted as part of their practice exam papers. According to Cheil, the video got 7 million views in two days and became part of a regular EBS documentary. It also won a bronze award for Media at Spikes 2016.
8. 'Hearts Aligned'
Agency: Clemenger BBDO
This spot for Pedigree, launched in April 2016 on World Health Day, is worth every second of its four-minute playing time. It's also a poignant example of an unrelated brand successfully working in the mental health sphere. Monitoring the heart rhythms of dogs and their owners, including a lady who is deaf and a man who became anxious and depressed following a work accident, a team of scientists discovered that the owners are significantly calmer when their dogs are with them compared to when they’re not; in fact, their heartbeats even start to align. What better advert for the strapline: ‘dogs bring out the good in us’? The film had over 3 million views and was mentioned in over 100 media outlets, both local and global.
Another Australian spot, this time specifically targeting new fathers with a four-part web series hosted by comedians and featuring 12 new dads, from September 2016. The 'brutally honest' discussions range from ‘brain fades’ to dirty nappies with many a comedy horror story in between, an effective way to bring to light some of the complex experiences associated with new fatherhood, particularly the negative ones. A beyondblue study from 2015 was the inspiration for this campaign, finding that there are 305,079 new fathers in Australia every year, of whom 56 percent “did not seek out information or support from any source during stressful times”. The campaign is ongoing.
10. 'Listeners Wanted'
Client: TELL mental health charity
Agency: Ogilvy & Mather Japan
TELL has offered mental health support services to Japan’s international community since 1973. This print and digital campaign, launched September 2015 to coincide with World Suicide prevention Day, aimed to recruit more volunteers to man its Lifeline telephone support line, a free counselling service that receives over 6,000 calls a year. The message was simple but, we think, highly effective.
And now for the dodgy one...
Client: Hello Angel
Agency: Cheil Hong Kong
This campaign has the best intentions at heart, basing its message on the insight that with the right love and support, most cases of post-natal depression among mothers are shortlived. Unfortunately, Cheil’s ‘simple idea to beat the baby blues’—embedding loving messages that appear when a baby’s nappy gets damp—is, well, a bit of a wet rag, particularly as Cheil released it with the statement that ‘Mothers who used Nappy Notes were 60 percent less likely to develop postpartum depression’. As we noted at the time it was released, in May last year, this seems a highly dubious finding and was unsupported by any evidence, something that just doesn't cut it where mental health issues are concerned.