The Timeless Authenticity of Mental Health Marketing Campaigns 

As our news feeds crowd with negativity, we’re seeing a movement towards socially conscious campaigns, including mental health marketing campaigns. As the ongoing pandemic is waking the world up to hidden mental health struggles, there is a wealth of untapped creativity and potential. With a long history of stigma, mental health marketing campaigns can inherently do right by breaking the silence. 

Now is the Time for Mental Health Marketing Campaigns

As the world continues to wake up to this national crisis, mental health awareness has entered mainstream media, with celebrities and influencers opening up about their mental health. Mental health awareness has even earned its place in our calendar. World Mental Health Day is October 10th, May is mental health awareness month, and July is Minority Mental Health Awareness month. With these annual “holidays,” it feels as if mental health has dug into trend territory.

The need for mental health care is undeniable. Mental health-related emergency hospital visits have increased 24% for children ages 5-11 and 31% for adolescents ages 12-17. Over the past five years, we’ve seen a 71% increase in DEI roles at organizations that tap psychologists to serve as chief diversity officers. What do these statistics mean for brands?

Why Mental Health Makes for a Promising Marketing Campaign

Kenneth Burke from Entrepreneur says that to give your story direction, you’ll need to define the enemy. For mental health marketing campaigns, the common enemy is easy. It can be a handful of things.

Understanding the “mental health” aspect of “marketing campaigns” is essential–like other campaigns, you wouldn’t launch it without doing your research. The context of mental health in the U.S. is this: there is a high demand for mental health services and treatments but a low supply for those demands.

Marketing trends are shaped by supply and demand–speculation and expectation. For mental health, the demand is getting higher. Venture capitalist Stephen Hays says, “from an Econ 101 perspective, if demand is far greater than supply and you put an accessible, effective, and affordable supply into the market, you’re going to see growth.” So what does this mean for marketing campaigns? 

It means there is an opportunity to be relevant and applicable. A company with customer-centric values should have customer-centric motives, and for mental health, consumer needs are loud and clear. A successful marketing campaign strikes a chord with customers. Mental health marketing campaigns can bridge the gap between producer and consumer through the collective reality of mental health. 

What Do Effective Mental Health Marketing Campaigns Look Like?

In May 2021, Jansport launched their #LightenTheLoad mental health marketing campaign. Right off the bat, this campaign wins in its clever and seamless wordplay. Written in pink and yellow bubble letters, Jansport announces its mission to connect people with fundamental tools to tackle the mental health crisis. 

This campaign continues to nail the authenticity factor by putting itself in direct conversation with its audience. The audience–Gen Z–is represented through videos of teens across the country speaking honestly about their own experiences with mental unwellness.

Determining your target audience will do little if you don’t know how to reach them. The students that sport Jansport bags are all over social media, so Jansport went straight to Instagram for IG reels and IGTV. After pinpointing your target audience, find out how and where to best reach it. 

Ultimately, Jansport’s success lies in using its brand as a platform rather than a means to an end. Their message is about mental health–not buying backpacks. At the same time, this message is also symbiotic with their brand–each component of the slogan works so that neither is complete without the other. “Lighten[ing] the load” applies to mental health care and the backpacks themselves.

There is something undeniably powerful about the impact that lasts. After Jansport’s mental health marketing campaign, their Instagram Lives, YouTube videos, and resources are still here to stay. 2022 “Brave Together Campaign” has a website dedicated to understanding, caring for, and speaking up about anxiety and depression.

These brands were stepping stones for their mission and message, rather than the other way around. Sincere mental health marketing campaigns can make an impact that lasts longer than the length of the campaign. 

What Not to Do in Your Marketing Mental Health Campaigns

Given the rise in mental health awareness, companies are flocking to the topic as a way to drive marketing campaigns. It feels like you can’t go wrong in choosing mental health as the theme of your next marketing campaign–except can you? Although mental health messaging is needed as far into the future as we can see, these messages can easily trivialize and miss the point. 

As brands take these annual dates as marketing opportunities, consumers become more aware of performative messaging versus genuine action. By grounding your brand in meaningful values, you are more likely to attract an audience that thinks the same way as you do. Performative messaging can be as transparent as glass. 

People notice when the product precedes or clashes with the context and need for mental health care. For example, in May 2019, Burger King announced its #FeelYourWay campaign, a play on the long-standing “Have it your way” slogan. In opposition to McDonald’s Happy Meals, the company released a collection of Blue, Yaaas, Pissed, Salty, and DGAF Meals for a limited time.

By framing itself as the better alternative, Burger King spread the message that it’s ok not to be ok all the time. As a result, the brand faced backlash and support for this campaign, with some news outlets praising its message and others pointing out how it flattens and simplifies the nuances of mental health. After all, there are more emotions than “Yaaas” and “Pissed.”

Mental health is more than a theme for a marketing campaign–it has serious undertones and realities. For example, if you are using humor, it must be done in a way that doesn’t undermine people’s experiences and doesn’t stray from consumer needs.

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