nabs stages powerful mental health message at ADCC show

When the gold award for Experiential Design Single was announced midway through the Advertising & Design Club of Canada’s (ADCC) Directions awards show last week, it seemed like just another in a series of accolades bestowed upon the industry’s best and brightest.

It soon became apparent that this award was different, however. While most of the night’s winners had offered nothing more than a short and sweet “Thanks,” the winner in this category stepped to the podium and shared a moving story about how the project came at a difficult time in his life—including the death of his father.

As he went on, his admissions became deeper, recounting a downward spiral into depression. “Pretty soon, nothing matters,” he said. The speech concluded with the “winner” informing the audience “I called nabs,” with the nabs support hotline number appearing on the screen behind him.  

Both the award and its recipient were part of a stunt developed by the national charity nabs and its agency partner Cossette, part of a broader fall marketing campaign constructed around the busy year-end awards show calendar.

“We wanted to find a disruptive, impactful way to get our message across,” said nabs’ executive director, Jay Bertram of the stunt. “It’s all designed to raise awareness and appreciation for nabs’ activities across all ages in our industry.”

In order to ensure maximum impact, the specifics of the program were kept secret from all but a small circle of people within nabs, which provides financial assistance and counselling for people within the marketing industry.

The idea for the live performance was a solution to address the challenge of advertising to advertising people, said Craig McIntosh, Cossette’s executive creative director. “We have the innate filter to blank a lot of it out when we are being advertised to, so we really needed to cut through and break through in a way that people wouldn’t be expecting.”

While the category and the award were fake, the problems discussed by the actor were not. They are very real problems that have been “shoved in the corner” for too long, said Bertram.

“What he talked about in terms of the issues he faced are talked about all the time,” he said. “These weren’t new issues he was making up. It’s no different to a commercial [identified as] ‘Actor portrayal,’ except we did it live.

“There was a bit of risk, but we felt it was a risk worth taking.”

“We didn’t want to make people feel uncomfortable, but we wanted them to pay attention and we needed people to feel something and to create that emotional connection,” said McIntosh. Cossette’s Jacob Greer and Simon Clancy were the creative team on the project.

An awards show setting gave the message an extra layer of relevance, he said. It was a way to remind people that someone may seem to be doing well—perhaps even winning awards—”but behind the scenes, deeper down they could really be suffering,” he said. Further adding to the realism, the actor portraying the award winner also spent time mingling with guests during the pre-show reception.

Cossette and nabs filmed the speech, which will be shared with senior agency leaders in the coming weeks. The holiday period is typically one of the most stressful in the agency world, says Bertram. “We just want them to tell their staff that nabs is there,” he says.

—With files from David Brown 

Chris Powell