Today, January 25th 2023, is ‘Bell Let’s Talk Day’, a major annual event in which the telecommunications company, Bell, partners with organisations around Canada to promote mental health by focusing on how Canadians can support each other by listening, talking, and being there for one another.
Running for the 13th consecutive year in a row, the run up to the big occasion saw longstanding event partners, creative agency LG2 revamp the ‘Bell Let’s Talk’ website, and most importantly, release brand new ads focusing on the numbers behind Canadian mental health. Titled ‘Let’s change this’, the campaign takes a simple approach to deliver an honest and bold message, using the alarming statistics about anxiety, lack of access to help, opioid addiction and suicide to break the fourth wall - emphasising the critical need for greater communication and resources for mental health across the country. This was further complemented by additional OOH, which showcased these sobering statistics superimposed on black and white photographs of people - reinforcing the need for more talk, and serving as a reminder to Canadians that they have the power to seek help, or become changemakers themselves.
To learn more, LBB’s Josh Neufeldt sat down with LG2 creative director Nicolas Dion, Bell’s VP, brand and sponsorship David Kennedy, and the chair of ‘Bell Let’s Talk’ Mary Deacon, to discuss the history of the initiative, creating spots with a poignant new twist, and what Canadians can do to involve themselves in this important fight.
LBB> Tell us about ‘Bell Let’s Talk’! What is it, and how has this initiative fit into Bell’s branding for the past 13 years?
Mary> ‘Bell Let’s Talk’ is the largest-ever corporate commitment to mental health in Canada, and is focused on four key action pillars - ‘Anti-stigma’, ‘Care’ and Access’, ‘Research’, and ‘Workplace Leadership’. It’s a driver of ‘Bell for Better
’, Bell’s investments in time and money to make a positive difference. Since its launch in 2010, ‘Bell Let's Talk’ has partnered with more than 1,400 organisations, providing mental health services throughout Canada, including hospitals, universities, local community service providers, and other care and research organisations. ‘Bell Let’s Talk’ is committed to our goal of donating at least $155 million to Canadian mental health initiatives through 2025.
LBB> What was the brief for this iteration of the campaign like, and how does it serve as an evolution from previous content?
David> Since 2010, as a country, we have made great progress in moving mental health forward and changed attitudes and behaviours around mental illness. 78% of Canadians reported attitudes about mental illness have changed for the better since ‘Bell Let’s Talk’ began.
This year, the brief was focused on the notion that even though we have made progress as a country around mental health, there is still a crisis, and so much more that needs to be done.
LG2 has been our partner on ‘Bell Let’s Talk’ since its inception in 2010, and for the team, it’s much more than just a campaign. They are passionate about mental health and they pour their hearts and souls into the work. Their creative has helped to increase awareness of mental health in Canada and reduce stigma around it.
Nicolas> The brief this year was to act as a wake up call for the country, stating the sorry state of mental illness in Canada through the use of real stats. This brief was following years of campaigns geared towards reducing the stigma and taboos associated with mental illness.
LBB> Given that this campaign was part of the month-long runup to the official day, how did creating work to last for this specific period factor into the creative process?
David> For the last thirteen years, January has been ‘Bell Let’s Talk’ month. The first few weeks focus on creating awareness around the issues we collectively need to be aware of and address together. It sets up the conversation and themes for Canadians to participate in on ‘Bell Let’s Talk Day’ (January 25th). This year, the awareness campaign is based on sobering stats about the state of mental health in Canada, and the need for change. It’s signed off with ‘Let’s change this’. As we shift to the big day, the focus moves to providing Canadians with inspiring actions to take to create positive change.
LBB> An essential aspect of the campaign is the use of alarming statistics. What was the research process like, what were the key takeaways, and how did you decide which statistics needed to be shared at all costs?
Nicolas> It’s easy to see mental health problems as being ever-present, not unlike background noise. People are aware that everything is not rosy, but few have a real understanding of the reality of the situation. The use of real statistics - talking about real numbers and real people was the right way to boldly present the state of the nation’s mental health.
- More than 200 Canadians will attempt suicide everyday – 12 will die.
- One in two people struggling in this country are not getting the help they need.
- One in four Canadians have been experiencing high levels of anxiety.
- The number of opioid overdose deaths in Canada went up more than 90% during the pandemic. It is now 20 people per day.
LBB> What was the writing process like? Why was using a bold and honest approach the best way to proceed, and how did you do so in a way that was sensitive to the nature of the subject, but also emphatic enough to be memorable?
Nicolas> The idea came from the notion that we all know it’s important to talk about mental health. We were like, ‘OK… let’s really talk about it’. In addition, the idea was to create a message that, at first, felt in continuity with previous years… making the moment of talking directly to camera and breaking the fourth wall even more surprising, striking and memorable.
LBB> The spots are poignant and emotional - please tell us about how they were made! Who directed, and what casting like?
Nicolas> The spots were directed by Emanuel Hoss-Desmarais, who’s been working with us on this since the beginning, more than a decade ago. His sensibility and ability to get the emotions out of our actors in very vulnerable moments made him the perfect choice.
In terms of casting, the sessions were an emotional rollercoaster. Receiving so many raw emotions made for very long days. A lot of actors gave amazing performances, but some of them just went to a place of truth that shone through the camera.
LBB> The sombre music really reinforces the serious nature of the subject matter. Who did you work with to find the sound for these spots, and what was that like?
Nicolas> Music agency Circonflex
has been a partner with us for years. They once again showed a sensibility in scoring these very emotional moments. We worked with them in creating a special soundscape for the moment the fourth wall is broken, to maximise the emotions in the moment.
LBB> Another key aspect of the campaign is the placement of statistics over black and white photographs. Tell us more about this. Where did the photos come from, and what went into bringing this aspect to life?
Nicolas> In video, it’s easier to put a human touch on a cold statistic. For the OOH and social executions, we shot with Maxyme G. Delisle
, featuring actors displaying very strong emotions. We then ‘meshed together’ the humans and the stats, because in real life, these numbers can’t be dissociated with the humans living those situations.
LBB> LG2’s digital experience group also revamped the ‘Bell Let’s Talk’ website. What went into making this happen, how long did it take, and why was this the right choice and right time to do it?
Nicolas> Technology is in constant evolution, and in the last years, there has been considerable progress in terms of available technologies for website development. Simply, ‘Bell Let’s Talk’s’ website
needed to be updated! Beyond that, it needed to be more than a website supporting a campaign - it needed to help support the conversation throughout the year in order to urge and empower Canadians to take action.
What went into making it happen? A great collaboration with our clients at Bell! Over almost a year, we had several workshops to discuss the mission of the cause, and the role of the website in the initiative and the campaign. Subsequently, we wanted the site experience to be structured around users’ main questions, offering them pertinent information and opportunities to engage.
We couldn’t be more proud!
LBB> What challenges have you faced during this project? How did you overcome them?
Nicolas> One of the challenges that we had to face was getting the right stats and choosing the right situations to showcase. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by numbers and forget the human beings behind the stats. We had to make sure the examples we chose offered the best chance of moving most of the population towards understanding and taking action.
Other than that, what we learned was when you create a striking piece of communication, the sensibility levels are different for everyone involved. What is too much? Where is too far? This production was an exercise in navigating all of this in trying to find the right balance between the power of the emotion and the triggers it can provoke.
LBB> What has the initial response been like?
Nicolas> The initial response has been one of shock at the facts, and a lot of people rightly pointing at the lack of resources and efforts around mental health in this country.
Mary> The ads show real situations and tell the real stories of people who are struggling with their mental health or someone close to them. So far, we are happy to see that people are paying attention to their stories, and are willing to take action and show support for mental health in meaningful and impactful ways.
Aside from that, the mental health organisations we partner with are supporting the bold, authentic and powerful stories we are telling. Social sentiment has been strongly positive, with many comments popping up about the need for all of us to take more action around mental health. The ads are having the effect we intended.
LBB> Working on a project that supports the mental health of people across the country must have been a moving experience. What did the chance to be involved in this project mean to you?
Nicolas> I have had the chance to work on the ‘Bell Let’s Talk’ project since year one. In that time, I have seen - with my own eyes - the transition toward people talking more openly about mental health. Thirteen years ago, you couldn’t even mention you were going to therapy, whereas now, what I see around me is a greater degree of openness about the subject.
In addition, I have had the chance to meet a lot of people and organisations across the country, and in that time, I’ve received so many testimonials and stories of how this campaign has helped. Working in the often superficial world of advertising, this work really does make a difference, and I couldn't be prouder to be part of it.
LBB> Is there anything you’d like to say on ‘Bell Let’s Talk Day’?
Nicolas> This year, ‘Bell Let’s talk Day’ will change. We will give our megaphone to all of the organisations that help thousands of Canadians everyday - rightly shining the spotlight on them and letting people from across the country know more about these great organisations.
Mary> On January 25th, and every day throughout the year, we encourage Canadians to take meaningful action to create positive change for mental health. Everyone can play a role, whether it’s in our homes, schools, workplaces or communities. Here are some actions we can all take:
- Choose a mental health organisation to learn about or support.
- Help a friend struggling with their mental health by learning how to support them.
- Ask about how your school, workplace or community is creating change for mental health.
- Nurture your own well-being by practising and learning mental health strategies.
- Get involved in a mental health initiative or organise an event to support mental health.
- Engage in conversations about mental health to fight stigma.
for more ideas, share your actions using ‘#BellLetsTalk’, and help inspire others to join the movement to create positive change for mental health!