How McCann Hong Kong Put Stress Under the Microscope
For millions of people, stress is a normal and accepted part of everyday life. Fuelled by the daily grind of late-stage capitalism and compounded by political uncertainty across the globe, stress levels are reportedly higher than they’ve ever been.
That’s one of the main takeaways from Cigna’s annual wellbeing survey, a comprehensive review into all aspects of our health. In the UK, it showed that eight in 10 people are experiencing stress, with one in five describing their stress as ‘unmanageable’.
With the issue more widespread than ever, McCann Worldgroup Hong Kong was set the task of showing stress in a different way. Their answer was the Stress Visualisation Experience, a unique and artistic way of seeing the impact of stress on the body.
To find out how it all works, and what it means for our relationship with stress, LBB’s Adam Bennett spoke to McCann Worldgroup HK creative director Dan Jacques.
LBB> Where did the idea for this campaign come from, and how did it come to happen?
Dan> Cigna’s annual 360 wellbeing survey allows them to stay on top of the big health topics that are affecting people around the world. Their most recent survey showed alarming signs that stress and its effects were starting to become extremely common, with a high-stress lifestyle now an accepted part of society. It also showed that there was a lack of understanding about how stress affects you physically as well as emotionally. Cigna challenged us to help them deliver a global public service announcement campaign that would not only educate, but inspire people to act on their stress and begin managing it before it manifested into chronic illness.
LBB> And how does the process actually work?
Dan> The experience itself takes two to three minutes to complete:
- The user sits down on the chair in front of the screen, places the headset on and their hand on the sensor.
- The kit then takes a base reading of the person’s bio data (brainwaves, heart rate, skin conductivity).
- The data is then transformed on screen in real-time into the stress visualisation. This animation takes around 25 seconds.
- The final portrait is then printed and handed to the user.
- The user can then forward the visualization to their email.
- The email has the user’s high-res visualisation image attached, as well as information about creating a stress care plan at Cigna’s website.
LBB> Why did Cigna want to highlight stress in this way?
Dan> When we were looking for powerful insights to activate the conversation around stress, we found one that really resonated amongst all of us in the team - the fact that the signs of stress are often invisible until they become chronic. Alongside this fact, we already knew that humans in general are very good at ignoring something they can’t see.
This gave us the breakthrough challenge we were looking for: what if we could make the invisible visible, and help individuals see their stress for the first time?
If we could achieve this, we believed we could then use this visual language to inspire them to use curated tools to help them take control of their stress.
LBB> What were your main aims and ambitions going into the campaign?
Dan> The medical world is very good at sharing graphs and numbers about our health, but we were always fascinated with how to breakdown this laboratory lingo into something approachable and tangible. Although the topic of stress is slowly starting to be recognised in the workplace and some parts of society, acting on our own personal stress is still taboo – often put to the back of our minds or seen as weakness. We hoped that by creating a bespoke piece of technology that produced a truly unique, stunning and personal portrait of an individual’s stress, they would see it in a different light and feel empowered to acknowledge it and act on it.
LBB> What kind of reception has the campaign received?
Dan> We really didn’t know how people would react to seeing their stress in real time... but it has been very moving and inspiring to see just how empowered participants have become after the experience. People are fascinated. As soon as a participant picks up their print out, they often go straight to share it with their colleagues or friends and begin discussing and breaking down its meaning. But for Cigna and ourselves, the most rewarding part of the process has been when participants ask the onsite expert how they can improve or maintain their visualisation – this is proof that the stress visualisation experience is helping people make that difficult first step: from recognising their stress, to understanding it and learning how to take control of it. The kit is now set to tour the US, Europe and Asia. I can’t wait to see how people react to the experience.
LBB> What can you tell us about the art style you used? Why did you feel this particle effect was best to highlight the impact of stress?
Dan> We explored and approached many artists to join us on this journey, but in the end, we partnered with LA based digital artist Sean Sullivan. Within just a few minutes of our first call together, we knew this was the partnership that was going to succeed. We spent several months with Sean exploring what stress in the body might look like. Ultimately, we wanted people to take control of stress, and the study of natural states that change behaviour like water, smoke and wind inspired us to go down the route of the particle art style. Each visualisation features around 20 million individual particles per frame, with 36,000 frames in total. The visual effects are generated at 60 frames per second using a 3D engine and dozens of custom compositing operations. Basically, there’s a crazy amount of processing going on in what is essentially a self-contained box the size of a small coffee table.
LBB> Why do you personally feel that the number of people feeling stress is rising around the world?
Dan> We now live in a 24/7 world where our worries, work and relationships are never more than a notification away. With this in mind, it has never been more important to understand exactly what stress is doing to our bodies. My time on this project has certainly opened my eyes to the fact that stress is serious, and managing it is as important as managing our sleep or our diet!
LBB> As a part of the campaign, you also included planning tools to help people manage their stress more effectively. What was the process for creating those tools?
Dan> This involved a lot of workshopping with Cigna doctors and specialists based across their network, as well as McCann’s. These tools are there to help people understand stress through tips and educational white papers, but more importantly, they are there to help people implement achievable stress management into everyday life. The plan is a doctor-approved way of taking the first step towards managing your stress, and certainly a great place for people to start.
LBB> What were the biggest challenges and how did you overcome them?
Dan> This project has almost been a year in the making. The challenges have come from all angles, all time zones and at all stages! From the fact that stress is interpreted differently in every culture and every individual, to the challenge of building an algorithm from scratch that could take medical bio data and transform it into stress artwork, to the fact that we needed to fit it all into a ‘plug-in-and-play’ machine small and mobile enough to tour the world. I could go on.
Luckily, our diverse team spread across the globe, who worked on this project, were all willing problem solvers who can be extremely proud of making a real difference in changing the way people see stress. Hopefully this campaign will continue to succeed in educating the public on the vital importance of understanding and managing stress going forward.
Creative Agency: McCann Hong Kong
Category: Corporate, Social and PSAs , Health