Being a human is hard. For some of us, weight-of-the-world-on-your-shoulders hard. The 988 Mental Health Lifeline is a three-digit number providing free, confidential help for Oklahomans experiencing a mental health or suicidal crisis. Anyone can call or text any time, but when it comes to talking about feelings, Oklahomans don't always feel comfortable asking for help. Especially rural middle-aged men, Oklahoma’s most at-risk demographic for suicide.
We knew there was no better time to spotlight Oklahoma’s mental health and reach our most at-risk group of Oklahomans than advertising’s biggest night: Super Bowl LVII.
As we began developing the PSA, our goals were:
From those goals stemmed our idea: "What would happen if your mental burden was personified as a literal weight on your back? And what if that burden was Oklahoma songbird Kristin Chenoweth singing the thoughts you want to keep inside?"
With Kristin Chenoweth on board, Oklahoma's 988 Mental Health Lifeline began shifting from stigma with a PSA rooted in optimism, humor, positivity, and heart.
According to the CDC, middle-aged adults (ages 35-65 years of age) account for 47.2% of all suicides in the United States. Of that age group, suicide rates are highest for white and Native American men, especially those who live in rural areas. Why? There is heightened stigma around mental health in these populations. "Be a man" mentality is rampant, and in rural communities in particular, at-risk men have less access to mental health resources, easier access to firearms, and are more likely to experience social isolation than their urban counterparts.
Because of this, we centered the PSA around a rural, white, middle-aged main character. He's the typical Oklahoma man's man. He lives in a small town. He works a blue collar job. He was likely raised with traditional beliefs, and he may believe "mental health doesn't exist."
To contrast his demeanor, we needed a bright and bubbly burden. As with everything surrounding 988, our goal was to challenge stigma head-on, so we leaned into comedy — something you might not expect to see linked to a mental health lifeline. From the start, the idea was built around Kristin Chenoweth’s strengths to make the PSA attention-grabbing, unique, and most importantly, memorable. Known for her signature operatic runs and smiley sense of humor, actress, Broadway legend, and fellow Oklahoman Kristin Chenoweth was a perfect match to be the face of our message.
It was critical through every step of the production that humor be carefully crafted with sensitivity due to our topic. After several weeks of honing the script and storyboard, outlining costumes and art direction, and planning the production, the PSA was shot in a single-day at a historic Oklahoma home. The crew was made up 100% from Oklahomans, in partnership with Tulsa-based Retrospec Films. Attention to sensitivity persisted in the edit too, with multiple rounds and versions produced to make sure our message was coming across exactly as we intended it — and with the most impact possible.
A few days before the big game, our social and YouTube campaigns launched to start bringing some buzz. The campaign continued on social media and YouTube from January to June 2023.
Response to the PSA was extremely positive, both in terms of reactions and numbers. After the spot initially aired at the Super Bowl, calls to the lifeline doubled. The PSA was featured in multiple newscasts and publications, including Adweek — a big feat for an Oklahoma agency. Kristin Chenoweth discussed the PSA on The Kelly Clarkson Show and related it to her own mental health struggles. In addition to the over 4 million TV and OTT impressions surrounding the Super Bowl, social media comments were also overwhelmingly positive, signaling that people felt seen and understood through the humorous PSA.
In terms of our goals for the PSA, we checked every box and considered it a massive success.
"This is by far the best mental health ad I’ve ever seen." — @LexiK1820 (YouTube)
“Best commercial this year” — @jerry.stone.56679 (Facebook)
"I’m a bit frightened that I can identify with this struggle, while able to find it amusing displayed in a commercial. These folks have my attention now fr." — @lonutta (YouTube)
"thank you for this. I wonder if my dad would have seen this commercial, might it have saved him?" — @DaneOrShine (Twitter)
In terms of metrics, the PSA performed extremely well too, with thousands of views and view times that beat industry averages. Audiences also skewed male to meet our goal of reaching an at-risk male audience. To date, the video continues to be the most viewed PSA on any of 988 Oklahoma’s platforms.