Tweens and teens living with cystic fibrosis, a genetic condition of the lungs, often spend weeks or months at home, separated from friends and extended family. They routinely wear masks and take other measures to avoid infection. Many become experts on social distancing at a young age, sharpening skills and strategies for coping with loneliness and isolation.
Such teens and tweens make up "The Social Distance Squad," offering advice and guidance to their peers who may be struggling with issues of separation in the age of Covid-19 quarantines and restrictions.
Developed by FCB Health Network agency Area 23 and five CF organizations—Claire's Place, Piper's Angels, the Bonnell Foundation, Attain Health and the Boomer Esiason Foundation—the campaign offers hope, support and actionable tips.
"We actually didn't start with cystic fibrosis," agency creative chief Tim Hawkey tells Muse. "We started with an internal brief, in the first days of lockdown, on how to get teens on board with social distancing, mask wearing, not going nuts, etc. One creative who had experience working for a pharma brand had the epiphany: Kids with CF have been doing this all their lives! What if we made them our experts?"
"The Social Distance Squad" does just that, as you'll see in this project teaser video…
… and these snackable clips, each starring a Squad member who shares his or her hard-won wisdom on everything from dating and DIY to winning when your sports season gets cut short:
To assemble the Squad, Area 23, which had already worked for Claire's Place, tapped into the membership of its CF partners, and filmed the episodes via Zoom. "We had a list of topics in mind," Hawkey recalls, "but it wasn't until we spoke to the kids that we realized just how many topics there were."
These youngsters were miles ahead of the current-events curve. The nuances of face-mask fashion, hang-out etiquette and "social spotters" (a buddy who reminds you to keep the correct distance from others) were old hat to them, and they were eager to share their knowledge "with very little direction" or prompting, Hawkey says. "You can tell these kids have so much to say, and no one has ever asked them their point of view before. So, we just turned on the camera and let them open up."
Of course, the project provides dual empowerment. Non-CF kids get a boost, and Squad members gain self-esteem and raise awareness of cystic fibrosis in an unexpectedly upbeat way.
"The CF community has always felt like castaways," Hawkey says. "Now they have the chance to really help the country and spread the message that social distancing is possible. As one of our squad members said, 'Hell, I've been doing this since I was 3. Surely you can do it for a summer.' "
In the spring, the Squad began leading Q&A sessions in virtual classrooms nationwide. That outreach proved popular and inspired the video series. Now, teens can can sign up for one-on-one or group chats with Squad members to hash out specific issues of concern.
The team shot footage of 15 young people with CF and plans to deploy more videos over time. It will also consider fresh recruits for the Squad. In addition to the campaign's YouTube channel, the clips will appear on Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok, where Area 23 hopes to generate organic sharing and perhaps team up with influencers and corporate sponsors to drive engagement.
"What we're really talking about here is mental health," Hawkey says. "The project really underscored for us that this is not just about a virus, it's about the mental health of millions of teens."
AREA 23, an FCB Health Network company
Tim Hawkey – CCO
Jay Gertelman – ACD
Logan Allanson – SVP Creative Director
Andy Gerchak – SVP Creative Director
Pamela Savage – SVP Creative Director
Eduardo Tavares – VP CD Design
Meghan Patenaude – ACD
Roberta Totaro – Art Supervisor
Angela Williams – Copy Supervisor
Lydia Sine – Account Supervisor
Jennifer Ma – SVP Director Integrated Production
Miona Mui – VP Director Integrated Production
Paddy Giordano – Senior Producer
Cassie Diehm – Senior Producer
Keith Haitkin – Senior Producer
Bill Hanff – VP Director Technology and Digital Production
Arthur Daraujo – ACD Art and Design
Emily Carman – Group Art Supervisor
Katelyn Baumann – Senior Art Director
Sarah McKinnon – Art Director
Carolina Sanchez – Junior Art Director
Patrick Egan – Junior Copywriter
Omar Inca – Junior Art Director
Sabrina Koenig – Junior Art Director
Sarah Vallecillo – Junior Copywriter
Ethan Victor – Junior Copywriter
Ronnie Caltabiano – VP ACD
Anna Lopez – VP Senior Producer
KC Dickerson – SVP Group Engagement
Studio Rx, an FCB Health Network company
Paul Belliveau – VP Creative Director Content
Max Wolkowitz – Motion Graphics Designer
Joel Stearns – Audio Engineer
Kelly Rice – Executive Producer
Mara Chase – Producer
Gary Greco – Editor
Fred Levron – Global Creative Partner
Melanie Mitchem – Global Communications Director
Marisa McWilliams – Corporate Communications Manager
Gwen Grillo – Editor
Liam Fitzmaurice – Editor
Jesse Samaritano – Editor
Diana Seldin – Editor
Nancy Jacobsen – Producer
Michelle Bellaff – Producer