Burnout in the Ad Industry Is Real. Take It From This Singing Cracker

Cossette puts on a show for a late-night worker

Overwork, resulting in severe pressure on mental health, has been a problem all across the advertising industry for decades. Thankfully, more and more agencies are recognizing the severity of the issue, and taking action. And now, Canadian agency Cossette adds its voice to the chorus of awareness in a more lighthearted way.

A new video, almost three minutes long, features a young ad-industry worker who seems permanently stuck at her desk. As she struggles with her workload, and a looming deadline, she gets a late-night visit from a most unlikely character—a cracker from her box of snacks.

And not just any cracker—one who can sing and dance, and voices his concern for her wellbeing through a catchy little tune. Is she so tired she's hallucinating? It's possible. But let's go with it.

nabs | Crumbles

The film was created for nabs, a group that supports the health and well-being of all individuals in the media, marketing, and communications industry in Canada. Nabs and Cossette have collaborated before, notably on this powerful award-show stunt at the end of 2019.

The mini-musical went live this week ahead of World Mental Health Day on Oct. 10. (This also happens to be Mental Illness Awareness Week.) It will run in digital and social and be amplified by influencers and execs within the North American ad industry, who will share stories of their own mental health challenges. The original song, "This Job Can Break You," will also be on Spotify starting Oct. 11.

We spoke to execs from Cossette and nabs more about the project.

Muse: Where did the concept come from for a singing cracker?

Jacob Greer, creative director at Cossette: Crumbles (the name of the cracker character) was created to help give a bit of perspective: In those moments when you're working so hard, you're so stressed out, and the pressure is just crushing you, Crumbles is a reminder to take a step back and remember "I'm burning myself out for a low-sodium, low-fat cracker..." or whatever it is you might be working on. We enjoy what we do, and yes there are stakes, but sometimes it can feel like life or death, and it doesn't need to. That little bit of perspective can be really helpful.

The theatrical musical number towards the end of the spot is a bit of a metaphor for the "song and dance" we often go through to hide how we really feel. And using humor felt like the right way to deliver some dark truths in a way that was still entertaining and shareable. The song is catchy on purpose—we're hoping it sticks in people's heads and helps remind them to take a break and find balance.

What was the process of writing the song?

Jacob Greer: We wrote the tune from scratch. We wanted it to be original and not adapted so the lyrics would really get your attention, and we didn't want to ruin anyone's favourite show tune. Once we had come up with a rough tune to work with, we got the meter down and then filled in the lyrics.

There were a lot of lyrics on the cutting room floor. The team, including our wonderful music and animation partners, knew we had a short amount of time to get people's attention, so shorter was better.

Once we had the song outline, we worked with Chris Tait and Ari Posner at Pirate to really turn it into a song. His original version is sung so well that it was stuck in our heads for months, but the a capella demo version we recorded had this really unique good/bad quality to it that we loved, so we made the decision to use that as our guide and searched for a voice for Crumbles. Then Chris and the team at Pirate kept reiterating and refining it to make it even better.

Why was the actress right for the part?

Nicole Ellerton, creative director at Cossette: With only one (real) character in the spot, we knew it had to be a considered choice. We made our lead a young woman because nabs has seen a very large increase in the number of women who have been reaching out for help. We wanted to find someone who could embody the tough yet vulnerable nature that we all embody. There's a silent suffering that often gets lost in the noise of the industry, and we really wanted that to come across.

How bad is the mental health crisis in advertising, and how will this video help improve things?

Mark Neves, director, central at nabs: "Now is the perfect time to start a conversation about the state of our collective mental health and wellbeing. During the last 18 months alone, the demand for nabs' services has skyrocketed, with over 3,600 people reaching out to us for various reasons including mental health issues, unemployment, illness and financial difficulties. We hope that this campaign encourages people within the industry—from all levels of seniority—to recognize the signs of mental burnout and distress early and take advantage of the many services and resources that nabs has available. No one needs to go through this alone.

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Tim Nudd
Tim Nudd is editor in chief of the Clio Awards, editor of Muse by Clio, and host of the podcast Tagline. Previously, he was creative editor at Adweek.

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