Droga5, Rapper Akinyemi Crafted a Musical Ode to Checking In on Friends During Covid

Ad Council PSA addresses mental health

While maintaining physical distance, you can still reach out to friends, gauge their emotional state, and determine if something's radically wrong. Doing so might help save a life.

And there are so many ways to keep in touch remotely as the Covid-19 pandemic drags on. For example:

"You can say 'How are you?' or get a fake tattoo.
You can ask with an app, if that works for you.
You can write 'em a text or knit 'em a sweater.
If you can't be together, you can write 'em a letter."

Rapper Akinyemi offers those examples and many more in "Whatever Gets You Talking," an immensely colorful and inventive music video created with the Ad Council, Droga5 and director Kristian Mercado Figueroa.

Part of the broader "Seize the Awkward" initiative supporting the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Jed Foundation, the PSA dropped today, coinciding with Mental Health Awareness Month:

Whatever Gets You Talking | Seize the Awkward | Ad Council

You can also stream the track on Spotify. The lyrical litany continues:

"You can ask in a GIF or ask in a dance.
You can say 'Ça va' if your friend's from France.
You can chat with them in VR, it's all good.
If you think you should check in, yeah you should."

Mixing animation with live action, the two-minute clip features Akinyemi along with Addison Rae, James Henry, Avery Cyrus, Mxmtoon and other Gen-Z influencers.

These GIFs reinforce the message.

"In trying to concept different ways to get teens to break the ice and start talking, we realized there's, well, too many ways to even count," Droga5 senior art director Luke Chard tells Muse. "We thought the most practical way to help get people talking was to put all these different conversation-starters on full display."

Want more conversation starters? Try these:

"You can chat on a game, kick off your flip-flops.
You can ask on your couch while you binge-watch.
You can ask during yoga during downward dog.
You can ask with headphones while singing a song.
You can even asking while working from home,
You can ask on a conference call—please hold!"

Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among young adults, and months of isolation will aversely impact the psychological well-being of a good portion of the population. Yet, those in the 16- to 24-year-old bracket often hesitate to reach out because they consider such conversations awkward, a stigma this campaign hopes to dispel in a fun, memorable way.

"We knew this group shied away from media that felt too much like they were being lectured to or reprimanded, so we decided to add a little bit of charm and light comedy," says Chard. "We looked at how these Gen-Zers were communicating and what they were scrolling through. Yup, a whole lot of TikTok and Instagram. Since music-driven, Internet-y memes seem to be golden, we thought we should incorporate that into the look and feel of the film and illustrations."

To make the video, "the actors recorded themselves on their phones," says Droga5 senior copywriter Dan Litzow. "Kris would direct them from a video chat that we were all on—a virtual video village, if you will—and we'd give our notes and crack jokes about a nonexistent craft services table. Then we repeated it all until we had ourselves some good footage."

As for more ways, "You just slip out the back, Jack—make a new plan, Stan..." 

Sorry, boomer humor. Here's Akinyemi:

"You can ask with flowers and talk for hours.
You can ask with a pose or send them something to draw.
You can ask while you're chillin' or dealin' cards.
However you do it, you gotta ask a friend.
And if they don't share, try to ask again."

"We didn't have to pivot too much" from pre-pandemic concepts, says agency senior copywriter Mietta McFarlane. However, "when it came to the execution of the campaign, things changed quite a bit. We had to pay close attention to what we were actually asking and showing, and make sure none of it put people at risk, physical-distancing wise. Thankfully, most were natural swaps, like showing friends reaching out virtually while binge-watching TV, versus showing them at the movies."

"Whatever Gets You Talking" follows a Covid PSA pivot toward mental health, as opposed to exclusively thanking first responders or stressing the need for social distancing and hand washing. Previously, the Ad Council assisted with Snapchat's "Here for You" program on dealing with anxiety, and helped extend the #AloneTogether initiative from MTV and the ViacomCBS Entertainment & Youth brands with content urging viewers to "Stay Calm, Stay Connected and Stay Active."

"Right now, checking in on a friend's mental health is more important than ever," says Ad Council chief campaign development officer Heidi Arthur. "Young people everywhere are missing out on significant life experiences this May—from prom to graduation, or new jobs and moving out."

"We're excited to drive home the message that you don't need to 'be there' to be there for a friend," she says. "The music video and suite of creative assets show the sheer breadth of ways young people can start and continue the conversation with their friends digitally—whether that be a call, text, GIF or emoji."

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David Gianatasio
David Gianatasio is senior editor at Clio Awards.

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