THE INVISIBLE OPPONENT

Sometimes, the toughest opponents are the ones you can’t see.

Suicide should be considered a public health emergency in the UK, with 125 lives lost every week.

Despite this, mental health is both hard to talk about and hard to understand. Unlike most illnesses, it is hidden from view. An internal, personal struggle for millions of people, many of whom fight it in silence. 

One area where men do express their feelings is sport.

Sports stars, including heavyweight boxing champion Tyson Fury, were starting to speak about their mental health struggles. If rich, successful, and seemingly healthy superstars could feel lonely, depressed or suicidal, anyone could.

We saw an opportunity to use the context of sport to visualise how mental health feels and encourage those struggling to talk about it and seek help.

The idea was to position mental health as ‘The Invisible Opponent’, which would be achieved by removing Deontay Wilder (Fury’s opponent) from the footage of his recent fight. We used an insightful, memorable truth that made sense of what people were seeing: “Sometimes the toughest opponents are the ones you can’t see.”

The Invisible Opponent allowed CALM to reach their key audience in a powerful and memorable way, using outdoor, social and their first ever TV ad.

The results were immediate. CALM’s awareness increased by 50%. Total monthly website users increased by 47%. Most importantly, calls to the suicide helpline rose 74% year-on-year.

In the process, we created a new, long-term brand platform for CALM and a powerful new way of visualising the impact of mental health.

The objectives 

The campaign had three simple objectives: 

  1. Raise awareness of CALM and the service it provides 
  2. Help to challenge the negative perceptions of mental health as a sign of weakness 
  3. Encourage those in need to seek support 

The audience 

We had three audiences to consider: 

Firstly, people at crisis point. It’s impossible to accurately size this audience at any given time, but it’s a significant group. Research suggests that one in five of us suffer from suicidal thoughts

Secondly, anyone who is struggling, whether from isolation, anxiety, health or money worries. 

Our third audience was their social networks around these people. Conversations with those you trust can be incredibly valuable in preventing suicide. These are the people who are best placed to spot someone struggling and who can encourage them to talk and to seek help, from CALM or elsewhere.

The strategy 

Using sport to challenge the stigma 

Talking about personal mental health struggles can be challenging for men. There is a stigma around issues like anxiety and depression that make them feel like weaknesses, not something a ‘real man’ should have to worry about. 

The truth is that mental health issues are indiscriminate and not signs of weakness. Talking about them takes courage and confronting them takes strength. We wanted to flip the narrative in this way; to position talking about mental health as a signal of strength, not weakness. 

To do so, we looked to sport. One of the areas where men are more comfortable expressing their emotions. 

We saw that a growing number of sports stars were talking about issues like depression and wondered whether we could use sport to start a new conversation about suicide. Elite athletes seemingly have it all. Fame, wealth, physical strength. But none of this protects you from anxiety or depression. 

By telling the story of sports stars’ struggles, we hoped to challenge the attitude that mental illness is a sign of weakness.

Making mental health tangible 

One of the challenges with mental health is that it is hidden. You can’t easily spot whether someone is suffering from depression, anxiety or having suicidal thoughts. 

We needed to find a way of making these internal struggles tangible. For those struggling, it could reassure them that these emotions are shared by millions of other people. And for our wider audience, it could help them to understand the issue. To feel our message, not just hear it.

The idea 

The insight behind the idea came from combining the truth that mental health is hidden with the competitive context of sport and competition... 

Sometimes, the toughest opponents are the ones you can’t see. 

An idea was born: The Invisible Opponent 

We would show how mental health feels by removing opponents from powerful sporting scenes. The concept can work for individual sports, like boxing, as well as team sports, like football or rugby. In both cases, it allows us to visualise the internal struggles that people face when dealing with depression, loneliness or suicidal thoughts. 

As well as being visually impactful, this approach would allow us to use existing footage and photography, rather than needing athlete access and funding an expensive shoot.

The launch 

For the launch campaign, we chose to tell heavyweight boxer Tyson Fury’s story. 

Tyson Fury had been unusually open about his struggles with mental health over the years, including attempts to take his own life. At the end of 2018, his fight with US boxer Deontay Wilder gave us a perfect metaphor for his personal story of overcoming his demons. 

In the 12th and final round, Fury is knocked to the floor by two brutal hits. As the referee nears the end of the 10 second count, Fury suddenly gets to his feet, ready to fight again.

This fight became the basis of our campaign. 

Using real footage from the fight against Deontay Wilder, Fury’s opponent was digitally and painstakingly removed so that the film shows him fighting an invisible opponent. We meticulously retouched over 1,000 frames to achieve this effect. 

The film first appeared during the ITV2 show Love Island, when we knew a large audience within our target demographic would be watching live. Rather than a traditional ad within the break, it was introduced by ITV2 with an introductory voiceover from the broadcaster, explaining that you don’t have to fight alone. 

This placement was also particularly poignant as three Love Island contestants had previously died by suicide after appearing in the show, as well as presenter Caroline Flack. 

We wanted to start a conversation about suicide, by encouraging those struggling to talk to CALM or talk to those around them. Love Island gave us the perfect context to do that. 

To extend the reach of the campaign we created digital posters that ran in prominent sites throughout the UK, as well as social content for Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

The results 

The campaign’s impact was immediate.

Within seconds of the ad appearing on TV, people started talking, about mental health and CALM, and the sentiment was overwhelmingly positive (97% positive and neutral sentiment vs 3% negative).

The film successfully dismissed the perception that mental health challenges are a sign of weakness. The most common word used to describe the campaign in social channels was 'powerful'.

As well as promotion by Tyson Fury himself, the ad was shared and talked about by many prominent British influencers, including Rob Beckett, Romesh Ranganathan, Davina McCall and Steven Bartlett, extending the reach of the message. Several digital brands covered the campaign, including LadBible and JOE.

All of this amplification was earned media, rather than paid for promotion.

3 million
Impressions (+150% vs June 2021)
71,367
Engagements (+358%)
2,922
audience growth (+95.5%)

The campaign helped to deliver a huge increase in awareness for CALM. Between April 2021 and April 2022, awareness of the charity increased by 50%, from 21% to 33%.

Then came the positive impact across website visits and calls.

Total monthly website users increased by 47% in July 2021, the month of launch.

Most importantly, calls to the helpline – the biggest indicator of prevented suicides – increased by 74% year-on-year during the week of launch.

Calls continued to rise even once the ad came off TV, reaching over 4,300 calls per week by mid-August, an increase of 82% year-on-year.

The Invisible Opponent has proven how emotional storytelling can challenge the stigma that prevents people from getting the help they need. There is no shortage of research about mental health, but precious few case studies of successful interventions at scale. We hope that this new platform will continue to build on the conversation about the impact of mental health challenges and, ultimately, save lives.

Simon Gunning, CALM CEO

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Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM)

Seven Stones worked with CALM on 'The Invisible Opponent' which was devised to raise awareness of CALM, challenge the negative perceptions of mental health as a sign of weakness and encourage those in need to seek support.

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Seven Stones

02078517500 [email protected]