United Brain Association draws inspiration from classic PSA for latest campaign

How the organization and Crowdiate reimagined “this is your brain on drugs” to explain its mission.

The United Brain Association's latest campaign draws inspiration from a classic 1980s PSA.
The United Brain Association's latest campaign draws inspiration from a classic 1980s PSA.

The people behind a new United Brain Association campaign do not appear to have had their creativity hindered by drugs, but they did find inspiration in a famous public service announcement from the 1980s about the dangers of using illegal substances.

The United Brain Association, a nonprofit that aims to fund brain research at major universities, hired Crowdiate, a Toronto-based marketing agency, to promote its mission. 

Crowdiate uses a unique model in which it posts advertising briefs to its website and then asks registered community members to submit ideas, turning it into a competition. The company used the format to develop campaigns for brands such as Amazon, Campbell’s and Hershey’s. The contest for the United Brain Association awarded a total of $10,000, split between first and fifth place. 

The idea that the United Brain Association used in the new campaign was submitted by Miguel Hiraldo from the Dominican Republic. It won second place in the contest.

The video plays on the 1987 campaign from Partnership for a Drug-Free America featuring a man asking, “Is there anyone out there who still isn’t clear about what doing drugs does?”

He then picks up an egg from a carton and says, “This is your brain.” Then he famously points to a skillet and says, “This is drugs.” Then he cracks the egg on the skillet, and as it sizzles says, “This is your brain on drugs.”

Time and other media organizations ranked it as one of the best PSAs of all time. 

In the new PSA, the camera pans over cartons of eggs, each of which is labeled with a different ailment, including Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder. 

“There are over 600 different brain and mental health disorders,” explains the narrator. “Only one organization takes care of them all.” 

The narrator then asks people to donate before a black screen appears with the text, “No mind left behind.”

Ian Mirlin, creative director of Crowdiate, said he liked Hiraldo’s idea because “eggs are such delicate little objects, and it’s a perfect metaphor for the brain, how delicate and complicated it is.”

The United Brain Association selects and funds the most promising brain research projects, according to its website. 

Aaron Nemoy, founder and CEO of Crowdiate, said he liked working with the organization in part because it treats mental illnesses the same as other brain disorders.

“There is merit in looking at the full spectrum of brain and mental health disorders with that broader lens, both in terms of seeing connections or illnesses, as well as helping to destigmatize mental health,” said Nemoy.

The United Brain Association is working with Fearless Media, a New York advertising agency, to launch the campaign primarily via digital and social media, according to Nemoy. The advertising will run through January to align with the giving season.

Noble Content, a studio based in Toronto, produced the video.

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