How Bell has refined its plan to fight stigma

What's changed for this year's "Let's Talk" campaign and how it's influenced the telco's CSR strategy.

Now in its fifth year, Bell Canada’s annual “Let’s Talk” campaign to end the stigma surrounding mental health is taking a more direct approach to show Canadians how things they might not think about can be harmful and how they can fix it.

This year’s campaign combines two key things that Mary Deacon, chair of Bell Canada’s mental health initiative, says the company has learned over the last five years of the initiative: that individuals’ stories are especially powerful when it comes to raising awareness, and that once that awareness is there, people want to find more ways that they can help.

To the first point, personalities Howie Mandel, Mary Walsh and Michael Landsberg have joined Olympic cyclist and speed skater Clara Hughes as spokespeople for the campaign. In addition to being featured in the OOH ads, they each have a video testimonials online where they discuss their individual struggles with mental health.

“When people hear these stories coming from someone like Clara Hughes, they tend to think, ‘if an Olympic medalist can have depression, maybe they aren’t all just being lazy like I thought,’” Deacon says.

When it comes to how the general public can help, the rest of the creative for this year’s campaign is centred around “5 simple ways” people can combat mental health stigma. Developed by Dr. Heather Stuart, Bell Canada’s mental health and anti-stigma research chair at Queen’s University, these include paying attention to the language being used, educating oneself, being kind, listening to those with mental health issues and talking to help break the silence. In addition to the out-of-home elements of the campaign being centred around these points, there is a spot for each one running on TV and online, where the “typical” language and attitudes in the workplace and schools are repeated before showing a kinder, more helpful way of talking about it.

The campaign is being done in phases this year: the videos have been running since late December, with the familiar OOH calls to action for Let’s Talk Day launching across the country next week. Lg2 and Media Experts once again handled the creative and media buying on the campaign, respectively.

Let’s Talk has always been based on the idea of breaking down the stigma surrounding mental health, but Deacon says that by shifting its focus to how people treat the issue, instead of the issue itself, this year’s spots are a bit more hard hitting.

“Most of us aren’t proud of it, because everyone knows that dealing with mental health is hard, but it’s become part of our lexicon,” she says of stigmatizing language. “Reminding people what we typically take for granted in the conversations we have every day, and then using the language to model what the good behaviour looks like, is a powerful contrast.”

Deacon says that while the budget behind marketing Let’s Talk has remained relatively consistent over the last five years, Bell has been able to extend the reach of the message as more partners have joined the campaign, such as Cineplex and Cinémas Guzzo, which will be airing the spots in theatres pro bono. She adds that the strategic decision five years ago to focus exclusively on mental health in its CSR work has meant saying no to many other causes, but also that Let’s Talk has seen incredible growth.

“There’s a greater awareness and appreciation for this kind of work and the kind of focus we’ve put on it,” she says. “I’ve had a lot of positive conversations with people from other companies on the notion of focusing and being dedicated to one issue, as opposed to spreading widely. They’re seeing the merits of it, and other companies like Canadian Tire are doing great work because of it.”

As always, Jan. 28 is Let’s Talk Day, when Bell will donate five cents for every text message and phone call made by a Bell customer, as well as for every tweet made using #BellLetsTalk and share of the image of the day on Facebook, to its funding commitment to Canadian mental health organizations. Last year, Bell raised nearly $5.5 million, bringing the five-year total to more than $67.5 million.