"The Epidemic," an intense PSA from Monica Lewinsky, BBDO New York and PR firm Dini von Mueffling Communications, doesn't quite go where you'd expect.
It contains images that might upset some viewers—ER staff rushing a teenage girl on a gurney down the hallways of a hospital; her body floating face-down in a pool; the girl at school, vomiting.
What kind of illness is so debilitating? Check out a two-minute version of the film here:
As the spot says at the end, the story isn't what it seems. The clip then points viewers to an interactive version of the same film at the-epidemic.com/realstory. For reasons that will become clear, it's best viewed on mobile.
The interactive version of the film reveals what the mystery epidemic really is—and how serious and even life threatening this scourge can be, especially with 60 percent of U.S. teens and 33 percent of young people worldwide saying they've enduring some form of harassment online.
To drive the point home, viewers who enter their phone numbers receive hateful text messages at the same time teenage protagonist Hailey views them in the story.
"The bullying crisis has become a global epidemic," Lewinsky said yesterday on NBC's Today show. "It can be hard to see the signs of when someone's going through this, and then, even worse than all of that is the fact that this behavior, with cyberbullying, even though it takes place online—there are offline consequences, and these consequences can range from bad to grave."
Lewinsky, whose White House tryst with President Bill Clinton played into his impeachment, has become a highly visible anti-bulling advocate of late, steering 2017's Emmy-nominated "In Real Life" campaign and last year's "Defy the Name" initiative. BBDO worked on those efforts, which, like "The Epidemic," were launched during October, which is National Anti-Bullying Month.
"We wanted them to be blindsided by the cyberbullying messages and experience it the way targets of cyberbullying experience it—on their phones, without any warning," BBDO creative director Bianca Guimaraes tells Muse. "Also, we wanted to make a film where the text messages completely changed the story to show how cyberbullying is hard to see and how its consequences can be dire."
Its compelling narrative, delivered with rapid-fire cinematic flair by director Cole Webley, "The Epidemic" supports these organizations: The Amanda Todd Legacy, The Childhood Resilience Foundation, Crisis Text Line, Defeat The Label, The Diana Award, Ditch The Label, Organization for Social Media Safety, Sandy Hook Promise, Sit With Us, Think Before You Type and The Tyler Clementi Foundation.
The approach of showing viewers the same spot twice—with new information creating a different perspective the second time—is also reminiscent of "Evan," the celebrated Sandy Hook Promise spot that BBDO made a few years ago.
"I think there's a solid idea there for parental awareness," Tom Megginson, creative director at Canadian agency Acart Communications and an expert on socially conscious marketing, says of "The Epidemic." "The idea that something like this is happening, under your nose, is important."
He adds, "Conceptually, it reminds me a lot of anti-drug ads. Like them, it pushes into fear-based 'moral-panic' territory that will certainly get attention from parents, but is unlikely to speak effectively to youth. So I have to assume the former, not the latter, are the target audience here."
"The target audience is everyone," says BBDO creative director Roberto Danino. "Cyberbullying is a global epidemic, and many times the targets suffer in silence. It was important to let people know that. It was also important to tell people what actions they can take to deal with the situation, whether they are being bullied themselves or they know someone who is being bullied. This is why we offer help from the Crisis Text Line and why we included a 'How To Help' section on the site."
Megginson said he was also surprised the campaign asks for viewers' phone numbers. "It's ironic to me that an organization promoting cyber safety would ask for information that we advise the public not to give to just anybody," he says.
BBDO offers this response: "Numbers entered are not being used for marketing purposes. They were strictly used to receive the bullying texts that Hailey [the teenage protagonist] was receiving, and to drive home the idea of cyber bullying. The PSA is an interactive ad meant to put viewers in a real-life situation."
Viewers can also watch a demo of the interactive experience, if they prefer not to give their phone number.
Spot: "The Epidemic"
Client: Monica Lewinsky
Creative Agency: BBDO, New York
Chief Creative Officer: Worldwide, David Lubars
Chief Creative Officer: New York, Greg Hahn
VP Creative Director: Bianca Guimaraes
Creative Director: Roberto Danino
VP Creative Director: Gary du Toit
VP Creative Director: Lance Vining
Associate Creative Director: Jim Connolly
Director of Integrated Production: David Rolfe
Executive Producer: Jessica Coccaro
Executive Producer, Digital: James Young
Developer: Alex Massicott
Developer: Nick Russo
Digital Resource Manager: Jimmy McGee
SVP Senior Director: Lindsey Cash
VP Director: Carrie White
Asst Account Executive: Ben Rickabaugh
VP Planning Director: Karin Santiago
Senior Brand Strategist: Dexter Blumenthal
Marketing Science Project Lead: Crystal Lin
EVP Director of Communications: Roy Elvove
Corporate Communications Associate: Kaley Turner
Production Company: Sanctuary
Director: Cole Webley
Director of Photography: Paul Meyers
Executive Producers: Preston Lee, Kristen Bedard-Johnson
Line Producer: Noah Thomason
Editorial Company: Arcade Edit
Editor: Paul Martinez
Assistant Editors: Chris Angel & Jeff Lopus
Executive Producer: Sila Soyer
Producer: Fanny Cruz
Telecine Company: Company 3
Senior Colorist: Tom Poole
Executive Producer: Ashley McKim
Producer: Alexandra Lubrano
Conform / Finish Company: Arcade Edit
Flame Artist: Tristian Wake
Flame Assist: Mark Popham
After Effects Artist: Riccardo Sinti
Composer/Creative Director: Sloan Alexander
Executive Producer: James Dean Wells
Audio Post: Post Human
Chief Engineer: Sloan Alexander
PR Agency: Dini von Mueffling Communications
CEO: Dini von Mueffling
Account Director: Daniel Lempert