Cannes blog: Mental health takes the stage

Campbell's Philip Donne checks out award-winning, stigma-tackling work from the Palais.


By Philip Donne

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” - Machiavelli

Walk. Stand. Sit. Watch. Read. Be moved. All in less than 30 or even 20 seconds. That is the pure power (and I don’t use that word in any dramatic way because It. Is. Power.) of deeply insightful communication, cogently captured, elegantly and simply presented, in its rawest and most compelling truth. To this day, after over 25 years as both participant and observer in the amazing and dynamic industry of communication, I am still repeatedly taken aback by the speed with which someone can be taken from a neutral emotional state into, at times, a burbling, sniffling mess of emotion.

It is a beautiful thing. It is this industry’s responsibility to take on the tasks that need and yearn for a way to break through the multiple messages and distraction that punctuate our current time.

Perhaps the more visible and present manifestations of this are our broader industry efforts to spark initiatives of environmental sustainability or to reveal once hidden social injustices. Maybe those efforts are in the realm of health and wellness as awareness advocates of “orphan diseases” or for raising attention to the need of advanced health surveillance. There are so many and the pro-bono work done by many leverages this aforementioned power to provoke and incite change.

On this visit to Cannes however, another facet of intervention struck me.

While I’ve seen the outer environment well covered, it’s the inner environment of ourselves, our attitudes and mental perspectives that has mirrored the power that I mentioned earlier.

The recent Bell campaign “Let’s Talk” draws us into the murkier, less understood and stigmatized areas of mental health and wellness. And I thought who better to truly delve into this than the marketing and creative community? A lot has been written about the linkages between creativity and “madness,” both its burden and responsibility – the responsibility for the creative in us to help others see those things they can’t. Your eyes see and your words express things in ways others simply cannot.

It was Aristotle who said: “There was never a genius without a tincture of madness.”

If I were to push the label into an uncomfortable area, but I think most of you could lend me a bit of licence: it is often said that psychotic individuals display a capacity to see the world in a novel and original way, literally, to see things that others cannot.

And with that declaration of admiration and exhortation to us all, there are two campaigns that for me, crystallize, perhaps, the most connected area to which communication can create new contexts and new solutions.

The first caught me completely by surprise in that it is for Pedigree, the Mars company pet food division. In a telegraphic and starkly simple visual, BBDO Germany tackles the issue of loneliness. Loneliness – the forgotten affliction of our ever-on, ever-socially-scrutinized, digital society. In our always-available, socially-connected world with 1,089 friends who “liked” 438 of our posts, there are those amongst us who suffer the stigma of not being the same as the “rest of us.” And for those of us who have touched the face of loneliness, it is perhaps a step or two from more significant consequences.

Enter Pedigree. With its Bronze-award-winning “Get Adopted” Press campaign. Single people, alone, with no “social network.”

In an instant, I could picture the people depicted with a cute furry ball of puppy, basking in their attention and giving off love and affirmation by the pawful.

Beautiful. Powerful. Visceral.

Being a “dog person” and now with a new pup, I felt this communication and could completely “see” the solution. No urging, no sell copy…just the photo and a two-word headline.

Another Gold Lion winner from Leo Burnett Tailor Made Sao Paulo on behalf of CVV, an emotional support hotline, punched through a similarly pure insight.

In every suicide there’s someone who wants to live.

Painful. Hopeful. Actionable.

cvvBy taking actual suicide notes and recutting the words on side-by-side panels, Leo Burnett illuminates the hope that many similar situations can be re-contextualized, reimagined and resuscitated. First panel notes from real suicide letters capture thoughts such as: “I am going to leave you forever because I am too sick to go on.” Second panel recut as: “To leave you forever and go to Heaven…come on…”

For those who’ve been in those dark places, it’s certain from my point of view that presenting this context and option can change outcomes everywhere this campaign can be shared.

Can we change our internal environment more as “creatives,” “the artistically mad,” potentially more effectively than other causes because “we” see it better?

Whether we answer yes, no or maybe, the proximity of genius and creativity to madness makes us kindred spirits. An echoed voice that perhaps in our quietest moments can also talk to us in this highly-charged, intensely-pressured world of pure imagination and potential. Maybe, by manifesting our own biases into the field of mental health and wellness, we treat ourselves; we provide a conduit for our own well documented struggle with it.

The human condition calls in feathered, weak voices at times, and it seems to me from these two different communication campaigns that as a group we have a special gift to see the path forward clearer.

It’s the territory of the soul out there. What a wonderful gift to help these often silent places.

We started with one Machiavelli quote and end with another: “Make no small plans for they have no power to stir the soul.”

PhilDonnePhilip Donne is president of Campbell Company of Canada.