Creative in association withGear Seven

Droga5 and Ad Council Enlist Bevvy of Celebs for Suicide Prevention Campaign

Advertising Agency
New York, USA
The campaign launches enlightening music video 'Whatever Gets You Talking' featuring rapper Akinyemi, pop icon Meghan Trainor and digital stars Addison Rae, Avery Cyrus, Bryce Xavier, James Henry, the McFarlands, Molly Burke, mxmtoon and brothers Zachary Valentine and Patrick Ramirez
To coincide with Mental Health Awareness Month, the significant life experiences young people are missing out on this May—from prom to graduation, or new jobs and moving out—and the mental health challenges they may be facing, the Seize the Awkward campaign is launching a brand new music video and a suite of digital, social, radio and broadcast assets giving young people the inspiration, language and tools to check in with their friends and support their mental health.

The national award-winning campaign, a collaboration between the Ad Council, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) and The Jed Foundation (JED), and created pro bono by creative agency Droga5, emphasises that just because we’re physically distant doesn’t mean teens and young adults should remain socially distant. 

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young adults and for every youth suicide it is estimated that 100-200 others attempt suicide. Young adulthood is a critical time when many people experience mental health issues as well as significant stress from life transitions such as gaining more independence and responsibility when moving from home and beginning college or a career.

Right now, it’s crucial that young people check in with their friends. Recent Ad Council Covid-19 research shows that, compared to older adults, young people report feeling more negative emotions such as isolation and depression related to Covid-19. ‘Whatever Gets You Talking’ showcases the variety of ways young people can start and continue conversations about mental health with their friends, whether that be through a GIF, emoji, call or text. “For many young people struggling with mental health issues, the fears and challenges resulting from Covid-19 have amplified what they’re going through,” said Heidi Arthur, chief campaign development officer at the Ad Council. “The new creative, brimming with energy and positivity, will provide our audience with support and give them access to tips and resources during this particularly difficult time.”

Directed by Kristian Mercado Figueroa, the music video speaks directly to viewers who might be struggling to find a way to reach out to a friend about their mental health. In a magical fashion, rapper Akinyemi’s voice appears to guide viewers through the different ways they can reach out and ultimately start a conversation with their friends. Countless conversation starters are brought to life through a kaleidoscope of animation, found footage and mixed media created by a global crew of animators and artists. Big-name music and digital stars Addison Rae, Avery Cyrus, Bryce Xavier, James Henry, The McFarlands, Meghan Trainor, Molly Burke, mxmtoon and brothers Zach Valentine and Pat Ramirez have also lent their talents and make cameo appearances. 

The video marks the first time both Droga5 and the Ad Council has shot live action footage directed remotely in real-time following Covid-19 physical distancing measures. “We all want to check in on our friends’ mental health but sometimes it can feel a bit awkward. That’s why for the next chapter of Seize the Awkward, we created ‘Whatever Gets You Talking’ to help break the ice - from a music video to GIFs, illustrations and partnerships with social platforms,” said Kevin Brady, executive creative director at Droga5. “It’s such an important conversation and we’re humbled to help as many of them happen as possible.”

Droga5 Executive Producer Jeremy Fox turned to full service production and post production company, Nice Shoes to produce, edit and finish the campaign. Nice Shoes executive producer, development TJ Sponzo, who has maintained a close relationship with Fox, worked to leverage the studio’s network of artists and partnerships to assemble a team that would meet the challenge of communicating about a sensitive subject, while appealing to a young audience. Working in sync with editor Reuter, Mercado was able to create balance between the humour of the social videos and animation with the sensitivity of having awkward and personal conversations.

Director Kristian Mercado Figueroa, comments: “I'm inspired by the culture and zeitgeist in large. I feel popular culture and the lexicon we all share and experience currently is fair game visually. The biggest thing is we wanted to capture what keeps people together, which is really the internet and being online, regardless of platform, so the visual language pulls heavily from things you'd experience online. It's also fun, and wild and all over the place, and I'm attracted to things that shift constantly and surprise. We want the audience to be amused, surprised, or feel something, and the work we do reflects that ethos. It was a collaborative effort and all the different styles contributed to the free-form style, jumping in unexpected ways. So mixing between animation styles, CGI, hand drawn, cel, mograph and just rocking a cool range.”

Thomas Sponzo, Executive Producer, Development at Nice Shoes, says: "We loved working on this campaign. Talking about mental health is an important issue that became even more prominent in the world’s day-to-day lives as the project went on. It's always a pleasure for us to work with Droga5 and Kristian. They were able to inject a life and humour into the subject matter that meant we could have so much fun with the animation. Luckily, when it came to having to pivot the campaign to a remote project, we were well prepared as we have been working remotely between our offices since 2011.” 

The music video is the new cornerstone of the fully integrated campaign and leads audiences to It is complemented by a suite of digital, social, radio and broadcast assets directing to the website, a landing page offering young people creative ways to reach out and stay connected with their friends during this difficult time, as well as tips and guidance on managing their own emotional wellbeing. To make it easy for young people to act and reach out, 36 artists across the world have created over 70 specially crafted conversation starters - GIFs and stickers on GIPHY - that anyone can easily send to a friend they’re worried about. The original song ‘Whatever Gets You Talking’ performed by Akinyemi will also be available across music streaming platforms.

The broadcast premiere of ‘Whatever Gets You Talking will air during the ‘Graduate Together: America Honors the Class of 2020’ prime time television special on 16th May at 8pm ET. The campaign will be supported with donated media from Google, YouTube, Instagram, TikTok and Tumblr with other partners and platforms later in the year. Snap Inc has also donated two national Snapchat filters spotlighting the campaign, with the second running 15th May. Media agency, Initiative, is providing pro bono support by securing high-profile targeted media with Billboard, Complex, Gallery Media Group, IGN, MIQ, Pandora (Soundcloud), Spotify, Tastemade and Uproxx.

While checking in with a friend and talking about mental health can make a big difference, many young people are hesitant to do so because it can feel awkward. Seize the Awkward launched in 2018 to shift the perception of this potential awkward moment into something young people can move past. In previous iterations, the campaign focused on making the potential awkwardness around these conversations less daunting. This new iteration encourages 16 to 24-year-olds to act and start the conversation by giving them the tools and language to do so, particularly when many young people are reporting an increase in mental health challenges in response to these uncertain times.

“At the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, we know from research that connection and support can be lifesaving. Empowering young people to have conversations with their friends about mental health is especially important when those we care about might be struggling. This digital-first campaign equips teens and young adults with realistic, creative ways to invite caring conversations through video, social sharables, animated GIFs and other conversation starters,” said Dr. Christine Moutier, AFSP’s chief medical officer. “We are so pleased to be part of the Seize the Awkward campaign and thrilled by the new tools to help young people take their conversations to authentic, positive places.”

“We know that loneliness and isolation are significant risk factors for mental health challenges and/or suicidal behaviour and that social connectedness is extremely protective for young people who may be struggling with mental health issues” said JED’s chief programs and operations officer Katie Cunningham. “This campaign is incredibly empowering to young people by providing them with a framework for interacting with one another that aligns with their interests and also empowers them to be creative in engaging in healthy ways.”

Since its launch in January 2018, the campaign has garnered 35.2 million video views and over 923,000 sessions on the website, where visitors can explore resources and tools to help them start a conversation with a peer around mental health. Most recently, the campaign received the 2020 Shorty Award for Best Use of a Spokesperson for its partnership with musician Billie Eilish.

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