BITE Focus

“Sometimes it is good to just switch off and step back”

How CALM and adam&eveDDB worked together to control consumers’ online news consumption in the wake of the Coronavirus crisis.

Izzy Ashton

Deputy Editor, BITE Creativebrief


As the COVID-19 pandemic spread around the world and the UK went into lockdown, the need to know more, to understand better and to stay informed became paramount. But the relentless news cycle that many people found themselves in can have seriously detrimental effects on people’s mental health, particularly when so many of us are now experiencing a 24/7 online existence.

In a bid to empower people to place boundaries around their online news consumption to protect their mental health, CALM teamed up with adam&eveDDB to create the Covid Blocker. This was designed as a free Google Chrome browser extension to help people take a break from the stress and anxiety of the unrelenting coronavirus news cycle. It works by identifying and blocking any images or text related to COVID-19 on any site that the user visits.

The COVID Blocker is not a suggestion from the charity to avoid the news altogether, but rather to encourage people to control what they consume.

While the ongoing coronavirus pandemic centres around people’s physical health, it is the nation’s mental health that is simultaneously being impacted by the crisis. The lockdown period and general feeling of uncertainty has produced a collective anxiety that still flows like an undercurrent beneath every conversation, communication and interaction people are having. The impact of our current reality is unprecedented, and CALM reported over 24,000 calls to their helpline in the first two months of lockdown.

Esrael Alem and Matthew Butler, Senior Creatives at adam&eveDDB, and Ben Hawley, Marketing and Communications Director at CALM spoke to BITE’s Deputy Editor Izzy Ashton for the latest CB Explores event about why the Covid Blocker is an essential tool for those of us looking to place boundaries around our online consumption and protect our mental health.

We weren’t there with silver bullets saying this is how people can navigate through this perfectly. We were there with guardrails and suggestions and tools.

Ben Hawley

Creativity under lockdown

As the nation went into lockdown, people began to on the one hand feel the need to follow the news almost obsessively but then on the other to attempt to shut out the world entirely. As Butler says, “When we first went into lockdown, there was a lot of uncertainty and everyone was looking to the news to find a little bit of reassurance and certainty.”

The problem was that the news consumption could become all consuming, a situation that can place, says Butler, a strain on a person’s mental health: “You’re constantly checking the news; you’re constantly talking about the woes of the world and that can weigh heavy on you.”

For Butler and Alem alongside the team at adam&eve, the goal was to establish a way to block out some of the negativity. Alem explains that the process was about two months from creative to launch and was, by his own admission, “quite easy.” He believes that the working from home set up meant that the process was more collaborative than previous campaigns the pair have worked on. The creatives could rapidly and continually iterate their ideas and, says Alem, “by the end you have the Covid Blocker.”

Asked whether lockdown has impacted the way the pair work as a creative team, Alem’s answer is “yes and no.” He goes on to explain that they “have a long history of working remotely with each other.” While he misses the in person catch ups and the walking brainstorming, Alem acknowledges that if they hadn’t been spending so much time on their computers, they wouldn’t have come up with the Covid Blocker in the first place. The process of spending all day on a computer, for all its detrimental effects, has “also brought about great new ideas and insights,” Alem adds.

Empowering people with tools not messaging

For the collective adam&eve and CALM teams, what was vital was that they created something tangible that would help people, rather than just delivering a message. As Hawley explains: “talking about things is one thing; actually providing something that enables that advice is a whole other thing.” As the helpline experienced unprecedented levels of demand, the fact that the Covid Blocker was essential a product worked well, says Hawley, “because it was something tangible as opposed to this ethereal advice that we were giving.”

The Blocker is a tool that, although it has come about as a result of a global crisis, also poses benefits to a life lived continuously and relentlessly online. Just a few months ago, many of us might have engaged with a product that could mute the seemingly never-ending Brexit cycle.

For Alem, it’s all about the products; “it’s about giving people tools.” What he believes is more useful than messaging, and that should be the future for advertising, is products and tools designed to have a tangible benefit on a person’s life: “whatever brand it is, I think they should provide some sort of support as opposed to just giving information…they should give you something to interact with that you can incorporate into your daily routine.”

While one of CALM’s first pieces of advice was to find time to switch off from the news, Hawley points out that, “the Covid Blocker was really smart because it wasn’t the answer.” He goes on to explain: “We weren’t there with silver bullets saying this is how people can navigate through this perfectly. We were there with guardrails and suggestions and tools, and this was one of those tools brought to life.”

The Blocker empowered people to take some control over the information and online consumption habits that have a very real impact on mental health. It became a time out; a moment people could take to step back and acknowledge that their mental wellbeing is something worth protecting. “The Covid Blocker is really useful at demonstrating the sort of action people can take to take more control,” Hawley adds.

Autonomy is really important right now because we live in a time where we’re constantly bombarded with things, and sometimes it is good to just switch off and step back.

Matthew Butler

Granting autonomy

The knowledge and information that CALM provides make it easier and clearer to see the impact that internet consumption can have on people’s mental health. But, says Butler, “ultimately it’s down to the individual and down to people to do what they want and use the internet however they see fit.”

It’s the individual’s role to manage and monitor what directly impacts their mental health but the power of the Blocker, Butler says, is that it “gives people more autonomy over the things that they see and don’t see.” He goes on to say, “I think that autonomy is really important right now because we live in a time where we’re constantly bombarded with things and sometimes it is good to just switch off and step back.”

Developing and working on the campaign has given Alem more of an awareness around what he is consuming digitally on a day to day basis and to find the tools to help him create, as he says, “my own safety bubble.” It’s made him consider how that consumption affects him, something that he believes is a vital metric to track: “Realising what [online consumption] does to you and why you end up having a faster heart rate at the end of the day. It’s not because you’ve walked about. It’s because you’ve been on the computer and so much stuff has been bombarding you.”

Working beyond the brief

The idea from adam&eve became something tangible, says Hawley, that CALM could talk about in the media. This was vital for an organisation that typically relies on earned media through PR. “When you bring a new product to market, it is eminently more PR-able and talk-able than having an opinion or delivering a message in standard advertising,” Hawley explains.

The Blocker allowed the organisation to be part of the conversation around the COVID-19 crisis. It was, says Hawley, “really pivotal for us to find our place and define our right to play in COVID. This [the Covid Blocker] was a really good vehicle for doing that.”

He cites the brilliant working relationship CALM has with adam&eve as integral to the campaign’s, and the ongoing partnership’s, success. “We’ve got a very incredible relationship with adam&eve. They understand our organisation implicitly, and so it’s fairly symbiotic,” Hawley says. The symbiosis meant the agency could be more reactive and could work beyond the brief, to see past it and develop an idea that just works.

“I think we’ll continue to be reactive with adam&eve and with the creativity that they can turn around at speed,” explains Hawley. He believes that that speed is only going to even more essential as the world shifts and changes so quickly. “By the time you’ve thought too hard about something, the moment’s passed and people have moved on, the conversation’s changed,” he says. “So, I think we need to stay very agile in the way that we work with adam&eve right now.”

Hawley believes that now is a time to make use of the test and learn strategy; “I’d almost say don’t overthink it,” he says. The ability to develop and adapt as you go means that ultimately, the work can stay very much forward thinking. “You can, in normal times, spend a long time convincing yourself it’s the wrong thing to do, with focus groups or things like that, that [can] maybe stifle some of the immediacy of a great idea.”

You don’t want it to be us and them. You want it to be a collective working for a greater cause.

Esrael Alem

A collective working for the greater good

For Alem, the lessons him and Butler have learnt working on this campaign are ones that he wants to carry forwards onto other projects. As to the success of the CALM work, it comes down to the partnership established at the start: “You want to be as nimble and as open with each other as possible. You don’t want it to be us and them. You want it to be a collective working for a greater cause.”

Butler believes that the current crisis has shone a spotlight on what people need and don’t need. This changes the way brands should operate. He explains: “Ultimately if you’re going to put anything out into the world and try to get people to latch onto it, you need to make sure it’s going to be benefiting their lives, that it’s going to be adding purpose and value to them, and it’s not just going to be another thing that fades away or is added to a pile of litter that already exists out there.”

For CALM and adam&eve, the Blocker was a vital product that helped people manage their mental health at a time of enormous uncertainty and fear. It allowed people to block out the noise and take a moment for themselves, to step back and just breathe. A lesson we could all do well to remember.

To watch the full interview, visit the dedicated Creativebrief Explores page.

Tune in at 2pm on Thursday 20th August as we explore how WaterWipes and The Brooklyn Brothers provided parents with a solid support community during lockdown.

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