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Advertising Sensitive Subjects

Jodi Sali

The creative process is all about collaborating and brainstorming ways to engage an audience with the desired result. Whether we are trying to sell more vehicles, increase awareness, or introduce a new product or service, there are many ways to tell our client’s stories and break through the marketing clutter. Selling tickets to a hockey game can be quite different than an awareness campaign about cancer screenings. So, when it comes to advertising sensitive subjects, what changes in the creative process?  What things should never change?

When the creative team at 116 & West partnered with the Idaho Suicide Prevention Program on a campaign designed to increase the use of the suicide prevention hotline and decrease suicide in the state of Idaho, we began with what we call MooreQuestions.

Proximity is the foundation of perspective. We ask the ones who are on the front lines. Most of the time, our clients are the ones with first-hand experience. They are the experts that see the things that make a tangible impact in the real world. Their proximity and experience reveal insights that provide the groundwork for effective and impactful creative.

Finding the right ingredients in the creative process

There are no secrets to a great creative process. There are fundamentals that make that process strong.

  1. Listen.

We have the opportunity to partner with amazing clients and draw on their expertise. It’s important to ask questions and then listen. To listen for the truth as they paint the picture of their story.  We ask more questions about the experience. We ask questions about best practices and the “why” behind them. The creative process involves a journey of discovery about the story they are trying to tell and then connecting our expertise in the best way to communicate that story. We work to understand why certain phrases or approaches don’t work. We listen and learn from the client about charged words or nuances of the language around a certain topic.

For the Suicide Prevention campaign, we drew insights that informed the creative direction in finding ways to take a strong stance on a sensitive topic while doing it with respect. Through our discovery phase, we made the creative decision to shift the focus from those considering suicide to the friends, family, and coworkers of those struggling. The audience changed, and so did the direction of the creative process.

  1. Be smart in how you tell the truth.

The truth is informed by the expertise of those proximate to the issues. A truth that is told well has the opportunity to resonate with the target in a way that cuts through the clutter. We’ve all seen commercials that come across forced or hokey. Why? What is it that misses the mark? They may be telling the truth, but missing the resonance of the story. Sensitive topics require more intentionality on how you present that truth. Too preachy? To hard-handed? Too fluffy?

Through the creative process, we constantly ask questions and compare those answers with what the experts say about the topic and what our marketing instincts are with the campaign. For this campaign, the truth was that a spouse or a teammate made the choice to intervene. That engagement changed the trajectory of their story. The creative choice to allow the individual who had considered suicide to be the first-person narrator served as giving the viewer permission to engage in the truth that is the heart of the message.

The message said that it was okay to intervene. In the first person, we hear someone say, “That was the day Jim saved my life.”

  1. Pay attention to the details.

Details matter! What you see or don’t see matters. What you hear matters. Intentionality in using the right vernacular matters. Knowing what charged words or phrases not to use matters.
Through our creative process, all the details of the concept, scripting, scouting, casting, and shooting came together into a finished piece overflowing with creative choices. The details of the shot and how the camera moves are intentional and mapped out. The missing pieces of the story allow for concept closure. With the help of the client, we identified scenarios specific to Idaho and certain demographics. The details of how we tell those stories in a true way set up an authentic connection with our audience.

A great creative process is much like the process of preparing an incredible meal. It all adds up. When you ask a master chef about the secret to preparing an amazing meal, you might hear about the process. But you will always hear a simple truth—ingredients matter.

The final product:

See how it all came together in the videos below.

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