Ahead of World Mental Health Day on the 10 October, Australian performance marketing agency Performics Mercerbell recently conducted a social experiment to explore whether working professionals notice when a colleague shows physical signs of mental ill health. As it turns out, people are worringly unobservant on video calls.
To conduct the experiment, the agency photoshopped the backgrounds of eight of its staff over the course of five days on calls with one client. Each day, their rooms become more cluttered and unkempt.
In addition, psychologist Sabina Read guided the participants to display possible signs of stress, being overwhelmed or feeling different from their usual selves in their body language and demeanor. They were asked to feign distractedness.
The test subjects monitored to see whether their peers—84 people in total over the five days—would flag or comment on the changes.
The result? No one did.
The Publicis Groupe agency consulted with Read to figure out some potential tell-tale signs of a person who is struggling. In their home environment, this may manifest as scattered laundry, dirty dishes by the desk indicating a person is eating while working, dying plants.
In a video explaining the experiment, the agency said that the average remote worker spends 40 per cent of their video call time looking at themselves.
With this campaign, Performics Mercerbell hopes to encourage remote-working professionals to pay more attention to their colleagues.
It has launched a ‘Background Blindspot’ website that points out digital signs of distress in a typical video conferencing window.
While it may seem like a campaign that encourages snooping on people's home, the agency pointed out it did want people to draw conclusions on their peers based on the backgrounds of their screens. It simply wants to equip workers with tools to recognise uncharacteristic changes in demeanour and online behaviour over time which could indicate that someone is unwell.
Performics Mercerbell CEO Jason Tonelli, said: "Background Blindspot has given us the opportunity as an agency to give people the tools to notice the signs, and to start meaningful conversations around Mental Health. As we face the daily challenges of a pandemic, through this campaign we hope to fulfil our purpose of making everyday lives better across Australia."
The digital awareness campaign has gained the support of harm prevention organisation R U OK? as well as Performics Mercerbell client Anytime Fitness.
The Background Blindspot website links to the R U OK? ‘How to start a conversation’ resource; ReachOut Australia’s ‘Surviving Online Learning’ guide, and a link to the Anytime Fitness blog, which speaks to the role exercise plays in mental wellbeing.
The campaign includes includes TV spots, influencer marketing, social media, and PR.
With the support of Microsoft Advertising, the agency has designed a series of digital backgrounds available for download on the website. These can be uploaded to video calls, to aid visibility around World Mental Health Day.
Renee Stopps, Microsoft Advertising sales director and APAC D&I lead, said: "As we continue to move into hybrid work, our aim is to empower and support flexibility, while strengthening human connection and promoting wellbeing."
A version of this article first appeared on Campaign Asia-Pacific.