Full Punch puts mental health top of mind with ‘Hotline Hats’

Mike Leslie and the team at Vancouver agency Full Punch are throwing their hat in the ring in an effort to help fund and advocate for better mental health  in Canadian marketing and advertising.

The agency has partnered with Vancouver’s Wirth Hats to create a line of “Hotline Hats” that display the emergency counselling line phone number for Wellness Together Canada. With every purchase, Wirth donates a free counselling session for someone in need.

Full Punch developed the concept, design, and supporting materials for the hats—including a dedicated Hotline Hat website—while Wirth is overseeing manufacturing, selling and distribution. The two companies are using their own social channels to promote the Hats, although there are plans for some paid media.

The initiative comes as the pandemic has shone new light on the magnitude of mental illness challenges faced by Canadians, underscoring the acute need for improved mental health services.

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, one in five Canadians will personally experience mental health problem or illness in any given year, and half will have or have had a mental illness by the age of 40. More than 4,000 Canadians died by suicide in 2019.

Research has shown that people working within advertising can be particularly susceptible to mental health challenges, which are exacerbated by the high-stress environment and demanding nature of the profession. It’s something that has been in the spotlight in recent years through the efforts of groups like nabs.

“I’ve been in the ad industry for 20 years, the last dozen or so in a managerial capacity… and I definitely recognize the challenges with mental health in our industry,” says Leslie, Full Punch partner and president. “The stress that we’ve been under in launching a new business is taxing, and we’ve become acutely aware of it as we continue to grow and scale our team.”

Leslie said he has personally sought out both personal and career counselling over the years, but acknowledges that there is still a stigma attached to the idea of speaking with professionals.

“I’ve recognized that seeking that professional help and being able to speak to someone, there’s great value in that,” he said. “Going through that process myself has been a way that I’ve been able to overcome personal challenges or work and career challenges. I definitely see the value in it.”

The Hotline Hats are green, the international colour for mental health awareness, while the emergency counselling line number is written on the front in bright yellow, a colour synonymous with happiness. “These hats are designed to grab people’s attention, offering a much-needed lifeline in an industry where mental health resources can be challenging to track down,” said Full Punch partner, head of creative Chris Zawada.

Leslie said they are designed to serve as a “beacon” for those struggling with mental health issues. “Even seeing someone wearing the hat around the office or on a Zoom call becomes a bit of a symbol that says ‘I’m someone you can talk to about mental health,” he said. “You get to self-identify as someone who can be supportive.”

Ben Miller co-founded Wirth Hats in 2018 as a way to honour his late friend Jakob Wirth, who died by suicide in 2014. Wirth loved hats, and had long talked with Miller about starting a hat company before his death. Miller originally created 25 commemorative hats for his late friend’s family and friends, but was driven to create the company after losing another friend, Philip, to suicide in 2017.

Each hat sold by Wirth features a tag bearing the message “Wirth Hats is a social venture, with all profits going towards mental health initiatives. WIRTH Hats is a tribute to loved and lost friends. It’s a commitment to conversation and openness. We aim to break down barriers and promote open dialogue to improve mental health.”

Miller said the company has been seeking to add an “actionable piece” its collection for some time. “What’s so great about this hat is that it has a clear call-to-action—to call for help if you’re feeling the strain,” he said.

Chris Powell