A header image of cardboard cut outs of talking bubbles in a pink background, on the mental health webpage
Brand Strategy / 05.31.2019

Three mental health awareness campaigns that hit the mark in May

Here’s a scary statistic: studies show that 1 in 5 Americans suffer from mental illness each year. That’s 43.8 million people in the US alone. Yet, we’re still living in a society that stigmatizes the struggles caused by mental illness, leaving millions of people too scared, embarrassed, or ashamed to seek help.

May was Mental Health Awareness month. Over the past 31 days, we saw several organic movements and advertising campaigns that raised awareness. Here are three we felt had the most impact.

1. 996.ICU Protests Gain Momentum via Github

Over the last few years, Chinese tech entrepreneurs have adopted an unofficial work schedule titled “996,” which requires tech employees to work 9 a.m.–9 p.m., six days a week. This schedule, praised by firms like Alibaba, has led to dangerous consequences, with many over-worked employees ending up in the hospital and even committing suicide.

In response, workers in China have turned to the Microsoft-owned platform Github, the world’s largest community of developers, to bring attention to this issue with a repository titled, “996.ICU.”

A pink image with the words, 'I support 996.ICU' #developerslivesmatter, along with a graphic of a person on an emergency room table.

[Source: icu]

This repository, which traditionally has been used to exchange code, is instead now being used to share thousands of posts protesting 996 schedules. According to Github, the project has been starred over 200,000 times, making it one of the fastest growing repositories in the service’s history.

Growing support against 996 has caused some Chinese browsers to block access to 996.ICU, which inspired Microsoft and Github employees to publish an open letter in support of the petition earlier this month, calling upon the company to protect the repository from Chinese censorship.

Our take:

The medium is perhaps even more interesting than the message here. Given China’s heavy internet censorship, this use of Github by the larger tech community is a strong reminder of how important it is for modern platforms to remain flexible to alternative (and often unexpected) purpose. As this story gains more traction, it will be interesting to see how Microsoft and China respond.


2. “Knowing Nothing” Campaign Advocates for Mental Health Training

Shortly after Microsoft and Github announced their support for 996.ICU, CEO Roundtable on Cancer, an NGO in China, launched a chilling campaign titled, ‘Knowing Nothing’ that aims to drive awareness of mental health.

The campaign, created by BBDO Shanghai, highlights the dark side of China’s work-life culture through the following message: “A company knows all your data, but it doesn’t know you.”

[Source: BBDO Shanghai]

The campaign, made of three infographics and one video, showcases the life of an employee going about his daily routine, with graphics detailing the data that’s being collected about him along the way—when he clocks in, how many times he prints out a piece of paper, where he takes his lunch, etc. What seemed like a normal day ends abruptly in suicide, emphasizing that although data can track everything about an employee’s performance or work schedule, it cannot predict or analyze mental health.

Our Take:

As 996 proves, an intense work schedule can have dangerous consequences to mental health, and ‘Knowing Nothing’ does an excellent job of putting that into context. This campaign and others like it are a clear response to all that is happening in the tech community overseas. Let’s hope that these types of campaigns can make a lasting change.


3. Burger King unveils unhappy meals 

Burger King strikes again with “Real Meals,” a play on McDonalds’ iconic Happy Meals for kids. “Real Meals” are meant to normalize the statement that “No one is happy all the time. And that’s OK.” Feeling sad? Order the Blue Meal. Feeling angry? Go for the  Pissed Meal. Feeling excited? Order the YAAAS meal. If you’re feeling a little lethargic, there’s even a DGAF Meal. The “Real Meal” is a fun celebration of Mental Health Awareness Month, and BK says it partnered with Mental Health America on the effort.

Photo of Burger King's 'Unhappy Meals' boxes with three packaged burgers sitting next to them.

[Source: CNN]

Our Take:

While this campaign received backlash and even references to Kendall Jenner’s Pepsi commercial, we appreciate the creativity. Burger King, known for its cheeky advertising and constant digs at McDonald’s, found a way to stay true to its brand while also bringing awareness to an important cause. We’ll take a “Real Meal” over Whopper X-Rays any day.


One of our clients, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness. For resources on how you or a loved one can seek help, visit: https://www.nami.org.

Portrait of Clara Shannon
Clara Shannon

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