Speaking To An Audience Of One
Working with Washington County to meet people where they’re at
I have incredible parents. I want to make that clear out of the gate. I never wanted for anything. They built their world around me and made sure I had everything I needed to not only be successful, but happy. I’m a fortunate and deeply grateful person.
That’s a lazy setup for a “but.”
I have incredible parents, BUT…they raised me with a comically dizzying fear of drugs and alcohol. It was made apparent to me at an early age that were I to take so much as a sip of beer, I’d be instantaneously transformed into some doomed equivalent of Barney Gumble cum Edward Hyde. A braindead barfly manically in search of the next drink. And drugs? Those were all lumped into the same category. A whiff or a drag or a hit or whatever, they were all a ticket to deadsville with a short layover in prison (of course, if you’re a parent, you probably know the best way to get your child to do something is to forbid them from doing it). By 10 years old, I held two things as absolute facts: breakfast for dinner should be every night, and drugs and alcohol are inescapable, violently addictive substances.
And so it’s with this entirely misinformed perspective that I enter into a kick-off meeting for Washington County’s mental health and substance abuse initiative.
Needless to say, research is a powerful tool.
Neither substance abuse nor mental health challenges are caused by or result from a one-time experimental encounter, and to think otherwise is wildly misinformed. To be clear, I’m in no way a physician or scientist (I’m barely a creative director), but a more accurate sentiment would be to state that these community-wide afflictions are the result of trauma; more precisely personal trauma. And therein lies the challenge: We were being tasked with creating a broad, universal campaign that addresses something entirely unique to each member of our hoped-for audience. No easy feat.
Here’s how we did it.
We needed to find common ground despite a universe of difference (age, sexual identity, race, affluence, community, family, etc.). As mentioned, our research informed us that the common factor was trauma. Albeit different for each person, all of their stories began with a tragedy. And equally so, the trajectory of their stories would indicate an unhappy ending. We know how it started, we know how it could end. Our opportunity is in the middle. If we can change the present, we can change the ending.
We decided early on that the community didn’t need another “There is hope” campaign. It’s a tired, flowery concept that probably doesn’t resonate with a cynical audience. And it’s not enough to simply say we know what they’re going through, because how could we? Addiction is powerfully internalized: you don’t know me, you don’t know my situation. This begged the question: What if we did? What if we didn’t just say we understood, but demonstrated it? What if our campaign was aimed at an audience of one?
Employing that audience-of-one mentality, we crafted very specific stories, with very specific messages. It wouldn’t resonate with everyone, but if one person dealing with substance abuse afflictions sees their very real, very unique experience on a billboard or digital ad, that could have a powerful effect. We crafted hundreds of specific scenarios and rolled them out across a comprehensive media plan. The creative is simple and elegant: Washington County brand colors, and a sharp, clean typeface. The campaign follows a rhythm: Tell their story, and invite them to change the end.
Billboard and Social Posts
Sadly, there’ll undoubtedly be new stories to tell. But the campaign is in its third year and expanding regionally; we take that as a sign of positive trends.
Most importantly though, if you or someone you love is struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues and living in Washington or Ozaukee County, you can reach out for help at changetheend.com.