As the pandemic required society to take public health safety actions such as social distancing, it led to an increase in isolation and loneliness.
Young people were most impacted, with a rising number reporting mental health struggles during the pandemic. In June 2020, one in four survey respondents between age of 18 and 24 said they thought about suicide in the previous 30 days, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report. Additionally, 41% experienced a mental or behavioral health condition, including symptoms of anxiety or depression (31%), as a result of COVID-19 stressors.There was a nearly 20% increase in hospital visits caused by suicide attempts last summer, according to the Children's Hospital Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics. Hospital visits for disruptive behavior disorders also increased by more than 40%.
In response, the Born This Way Foundation, Lady Gaga's mental wellness nonprofit, Find Your Anchor, a grassroots suicide prevention, awareness and education initiative, and the Ali Forney Center, a nonprofit that provides housing and supportive services to LGBTQIA+ homeless youth, launched the Please Stay Pledge, a suicide prevention project.
The PSA encouraged people to sign a pledge that reads, “I (name) agree to stay alive. Even when the world seems to stop spinning, I promise I will keep going. I promise to keep fighting.” The campaign included an interactive website with suicide prevention hotline contact information, self-care tips and suggestions for “soul-filling” acts like “smiling at a stranger.”
The pledge kicked off in October 2020 with a heavy emphasis on Facebook to drive awareness. But in May, Talon America, an independent OOH media specialist agency, elevated the campaign pro-bono with a digital out of home media strategy in partnership with a variety of media owners. Digital OOH placements included bulletins, kiosks and boat signage across 21 states. The text on the signs read, “This is the sign you’ve been waiting for.”
The OOH integration drove a 66% increase in online pledge participants, a 32% increase in printed pledge downloads and boosted website page views by 33%. Between May and July, the campaign generated 194 million impressions with a media value of more than $1.8 million.
“Digital out of home was [the] number one [medium] to drive awareness and get people to commit to pledges, which was the most important piece,” Enza Chiodi, Talon America's SVP of client strategy, told Campaign US. “The ability to get to the URL, download their own pledges and upload them back was extremely successful.”
Digital OOH was a “flexible” medium for the PSA, said Chiodi, adding that the OOH specialist agency didn’t want to charge the nonprofit organizations for production.
“People forget that mobility didn't necessarily decrease; it changed,” Chiodi said. “People had a different routine. Maybe they weren't making the commute into the city, but they were still out and around in their local communities, running errands. People weren’t shutting their homes, locking the doors and not doing anything.”
Because movement patterns did change significantly during the pandemic, however, being strategic about OOH placements were key. In the case of the suicide prevention campaign, bulletins, kiosks and other open outdoor spaces such as boats were successful in reaching people spending time outdoors.
“Hopefully [the PSA] gives people a reason to think twice about what's going on in their lives, how they examine their role and their contribution to society,” Chiodi said.