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Like most illnesses, mental health issues don’t really care about the gender of their victim. It’s an equal-opportunities condition, striking down man and woman, young and old with careless abandon.

However, where the disparities lie in combating depression and suicide is how sufferers reach out for and receive help - with many men not knowing when and how to help a friend having a tough time. It’s with this insight that UKTV's comedy channel, Dave, launched the Be The Mate You'd Want campaign in November 2018, a year-long partnership with the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM).

The work followed research commissioned by Dave and CALM (a leading movement against suicide, which remains the single biggest killer of men under the age of 45) of 2,300 people in the UK which revealed that, while 86% of men agree that they would want to help a friend, 35% wouldn't know what to do to help.

The survey also revealed a male/female disparity when it came to noticing the warning signs: 41% of men find it difficult to recognise when their friend is struggling, compared to 26% of women.

Dave and CALM – Be the Mate You'd Want

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Kicking the campaign off, in typical anarchic Dave style, was a full-length ad-break takeover. Voiced by stand-up comedian James Acaster (himself something of a Dave staple), the four-minute slot both informed viewers of the campaign's purpose and, in a canny move, gave them time to actually reach out and contact a friend they feel might be having a bit of trouble.

The spot itself, along with all of the marketing materials, was produced in-house, with Dave's Senior Social Editor, CALM ambassador, and mental health author Aaron Gillies crafting the dialogue and copy. Gillies is also the co-host of the campaign's podcast, alongside award-winning comedian Lauren Pattison, featuring comedians including Matt Richardson, Elis James, Darren Harriot, Cariad Lloyd, Lou Sanders and Jamie Demetriou talking about how they fight against living miserably. 

We caught up with Aaron (perhaps best known for his hilarious and thought-provoking Twitter persona @TechnicallyRon) to chat about the campaign, the ad-break takeover itself and the importance of having sufferers of mental health issues working on the messaging.

Aaron Gillies, Senior Social Editor, Dave

How did you get involved in the ‘Be the mate you’d want’ project?

I joined Dave in June when the first meetings about a partnership with CALM were happening. Cherie (Head of Marketing) asked me if I would like to be involved with the project and I  quite frankly jumped at the chance. In one of the meetings I told a story about how when I was suffering, not speaking to anyone, isolating myself from the world, a friend ordered a takeaway to my front door and had asked the delivery driver just to say that I had answered the door. It was a small gesture but made such a difference to me, it helped me know that I wasn’t alone, that people cared, it really stuck with me. Be the mate you’d want kind of (very tenuously) came out of that conversation.

The campaign has such a simple call-to-action - be a mate to your mate. Was it important for you to make it something that had a personal connection, rather than a generic ‘please donate’ appeal?

I apologise in advance for using the term ‘as a sufferer’ in this over and over again, but, as a sufferer I have seen so many mental health campaigns pointing the finger at me, telling me I need to talk, I need to get help. I know I need to do those things, but I physically can’t, my depression holds me back, my anxiety convinces me to be terrified of change. From a purely selfish point of view I wanted to help create a campaign that everyone can relate to, that everyone, regardless of the chemical balance in your brain, can take something from.

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When did the ad-break-takeover come into the conversation? What was the importance of collaborating with a channel like Dave?

It came into conversation after we had decided on the campaign title and we knew what we wanted to achieve with this campaign. I don’t think this campaign would work with anyone but Dave, they can get away with being silly, using self-deprecation to get a message across, and the Dave audience are people that wouldn’t expect the channel to create a message like this, it just seemed like a perfect fit.

As a sufferer I have seen so many mental health campaigns pointing the finger at me, telling me I need to talk, I need to get help. I know I need to do those things, but I physically can’t.

The genius of the takeover is, in our mind, the clear time given for the audience to actively engage in the campaign’s request - to reach out to a friend. Was there any worry about having that much ‘dead air’, as it were? Was that a key factor from the beginning?

Oh completely and utterly. We quickly realised after the first draft of the script that it only filled about 40 seconds of air time. But like I said above, Dave being able to use self-deprecation and self-awareness allowed us to have a laugh with the rest of the takeover. The lovely thing about this message is that it is so simple, it’s not forcing anyone to do anything, not guilting anyone into feeling a certain way, it’s just a suggestion, and comedy works really well with this. We basically just said “How about we just take over the ad break but mess about with it”. You know you’re onto a winner when you can say “How about a jazz interlude” and no one tells you to get the hell out of the room.

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When did James Acaster get involved? What was it about his delivery that you thought would aid the message?

James had just appeared on Taskmaster, and his comedy, his sense of humour and the way he conducts himself just fit perfectly with what we wanted to achieve with this campaign. As soon as his name came up to do the voice over we knew it was the right one.

Christmas can be a really crap time to people who are going through a tough time.

Not to get too personal, but you’ve had significant dealing with depression and anxiety in your past, as documented in your book ‘How To Survive The End Of The World (when it’s in your on head)’. Do you think it’s important to have people working on campaigns like this who have first-hand experience of the issue? Were there any intimate insights that you brought to the project?

I think it can be invaluable to have people in the room who know these subjects intimately because they live with them every single day. Even if it just comes down to the right language to use, the themes, some personal insights, campaigns like these have to be genuine and authentic, no one wants an ill-informed brand jumping on a bandwagon, there has to be reason, research and rationale, and I strongly believe this campaign has all three.

Dave and CALM – Be the Mate You'd Want - Ad Break Takeover

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We’re used to mainly talking about Christmas TV ads in this part of the year, so this came as a refreshing change. Were there ever any worries about launching in such a busy advertising period? Was it important to get the message out just before a period in which vulnerable people could feel lonely?

Exactly that, Christmas can be a really crap time to people who are going through a tough time. It can also be a time of year where we are all so busy getting ready for our Christmases that we put real life on pause for a bit, and maybe let things fall by the wayside. It’s no ones fault, it’s just what happens at this time of year. We thought it was an amazing time to start this campaign, not only because of this, but because when every other advert is about Christmas, this can really cut through.

We’ve been promised more to come - what can you tell us about that? How involved are you in those aspects?

Unfortunately I am not allowed to say anything at this stage, I really REALLY want to shout about some of the stuff we have going on, but that will have to wait.

Aside from the campaign, what’s up next for you?

Ha! Kind of the same as the above! I am working on a lot of exciting projects that I want to scream about from a rooftop somewhere until someone tells me to get off their roof, but for the moment Be the mate you’d want will continue next year with some amazing things coming from it, and the paperback of my book How To Survive is out, so if you have any money they make really good doorstops.

Need support? Worried about someone? CALM's free, anonymous and confidential helpline and webchat are open every day, 5pm-midnight. Get in touch.

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