Advertisers must do more to address the mental health crisis

Brands have a long history of changing perceptions on key societal topics through marketing.

(Photo credit: Unsplash).

The advertising industry can do more to address the mental health crisis. 

Our survey, the Pulse of the American Consumer, shows that 85% of Americans say our society doesn’t take mental health seriously enough as a public health crisis. Brands have a long history of changing perceptions on key societal topics through marketing. We’ve seen the commitment brands have made to showing an inclusive and diverse range of people in their work, broadening the perceptions of how consumers think about everything from body image to the complexion of our country. 

With such significant concerns about mental health sweeping the country, we should ask ourselves what more we can do.

In 2019, Burger King launched a mental health awareness campaign with mood-themed Real Meals. The campaign conveyed that not everyone is happy all the time, and that’s okay. But it received serious backlash for making light of – and trying to capitalize on – the mental health crisis to sell products.  

But not every brand gets it wrong. Take backpack company Jansport, which in 2020, launched #LightenTheLoad. The campaign encouraged young people to share their stories to “lighten the load” while offering tips and resources from mental health experts to help them cope with their struggles. 

It is a delicate balance. For every 10 JanSport successes, there’s a Burger King snafu. Getting it right means nailing the messaging and creative, as well as reaching the intended audience in the right way. 

Consumers are no longer just wishing, but demanding, brands take an authentic stance on societal issues, including the mental health crisis. Finding a way for brands to authentically be part of the conversation is key.

Having the right audience data is key to your success. The right data helps brands and advertisers understand consumer sentiment around the crisis to better see where brands fit in the conversation and offer what consumers want in their communications. It can assist in determining the right places to talk about sensitive topics in an empathetic and authentic way.  And it can allow brands to tailor their messaging to meet consumers where they are.

We worked with the Ad Council on It’s Up to You, a public service campaign aimed at convincing the vaccine-hesitant to embark on a personal education process to build confidence in the shots. The Ad Council used our Big Village Audiences, a methodology for building audiences, to find the right people. We started with an attitudinal survey to identify how people felt about the vaccine. Then, we connected those who were hesitant to digital behavior that we used to target them with the right content and resources. The same approach could be used to understand how audiences feel about mental health and what messages and content will resonate most.

Advertisers are working to raise awareness and highlight mental health resources for individuals, but more can be done. In most instances, it boils down to knowing what to say – and when and how to say it. 

Brands need to define clear, data-driven strategies for talking about the mental health crisis, ensuring they are authentic in their messaging, true to the perceptions of their audiences and responsible with the content they share to change hearts and minds on this topic. 

Everyone must play a part in the mental health crisis, including the advertising industry. Let’s continue our tradition of leading beneficial cultural changes and evolving how Americans think about key social issues.

Kasha Cacy is global CEO at Big Village. This column first appeared on campaignlive.com. 


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