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Ad agency PFXMB launches virtual social experiment to shine light on mental health among corporate Aussies

Australia – To honor World Mental Health Day, which was celebrated on 10 October, the Australia-based advertising agency, Performics Mercerbell (PFXMB), has launched ‘Background Blindspot’, a digital awareness campaign and website that aims to give corporate Australians the tools to recognize online signs of mental health issues and promote digital well-being.

The project is premised on the knowledge that during the lockdown, screen-time has skyrocketed for many remote-working professionals, including the potential for heightened stress and video call fatigue. In consultation with psychologist and social commentator Sabina Read, PFXMB conducted a video call social experiment with eight agency staff and one client – to demonstrate how a person’s internal state can manifest in their external environment or appearance. 

As part of the experiment, participants intentionally altered the background of their rooms over five days, using cues like scattered laundry, dirty dishes, or feigned distractedness – monitoring to see whether their peers would flag or comment on the changes. Rather than encouraging people to draw conclusions based on the backgrounds of their screens, the experiment aims to reinforce the importance of also paying attention to uncharacteristic changes in demeanor and online behavior over time, which could indicate that someone is struggling.

Jason Tonelli, the chief executive officer at PFXMB, commented that ‘Background Blindspot’ has given them the opportunity as an agency to give people the tools to notice the signs and to start meaningful conversations around mental health. 

“As we face the daily challenges of a pandemic – through this campaign, we hope to fulfill our purpose of making everyday lives better across Australia,” said Tonelli.

Moreover, the agency has created a website resembling a typical video conferencing window – designed to educate corporate Australians on identifying the ‘digital signs’ of distress. Its primary goal is to provide users the opportunity to reflect on their team, providing them with appropriate resources.

With the support of Microsoft Advertising, PFXMB has also designed a series of bespoke digital backgrounds available for download on the website. These can be uploaded to video calls, to aid visibility around World Mental Health Day.

Renee Stopps, Microsoft’s advertising sales director and D&I lead for APAC, shared that as they continue to move into hybrid work, their aim is to empower and support flexibility while strengthening the human connection and promoting wellbeing. 

“We are proud to support our Microsoft Advertising Elite Partner, Performics Mercerbell in creating awareness for World Mental Health Day 2021 with the project Background Blindspot,” said Stopps.

PFXMB has also gained the support of harm prevention organization R U OK? and its client Anytime Fitness. Through this, the Background Blindspot website will link to the R U OK? ‘How to start a conversation resource; ReachOut Australia’s ‘Surviving Online Learning’ guide and a link to the Anytime Fitness blog, which speaks to the role exercise plays in mental wellbeing.

The awareness campaign includes TV spots, influencer marketing, and social media, as well as PR.