case studies | changing minds
Starting conversations. Saving lives.
Changing Minds Campaign

Local nonprofit the Health District needed a campaign to raise awareness about a growing public health crisis in our community, substance use disorders.

1 in 10
community members lives with the disease of drug and/or alcohol addiction
Less than 1 in 10
who need treatment for the disease of addiction receive it
1 in 14
Americans lives in recovery from a substance use disorder
Odds are you know someone suffering from addiction

A substance use disorder, also known as addiction, is a disease that changes the brain. When addiction takes hold, it becomes less and less of a choice. The brain is rewired to function as if the substance is life-or-death essential for survival. It’s a chronic disease like cancer, diabetes and arthritis. And it’s rampant.

A whopping 26,000 community members live with a substance use disorder — 1 in 10 of our neighbors. The disease doesn’t discriminate; it can happen to anyone and touches every demographic. And yet there was virtually no awareness in the community that addiction was such a large-scale problem.

There can be no movement toward a solution if people don’t know a problem exists. So the Health District engaged Toolbox Creative to develop a compelling awareness campaign. Our objectives: activate productive awareness of addiction, squelch unproductive stigmas and expand and improve overall understanding of the disease.

The best medicine

Toolbox dove in with an in-depth discovery process. We gathered intel from a wide spectrum of addiction experts — patients, counselors, medical professionals, law enforcement, local government, community focus groups, faith and nonprofit organizations, and Health District staff. We examined substance use disorder research and viewed awareness campaigns from around the world. We investigated audience personas. We jumped in with both feet.

There was a lot to learn, and the resulting Key Findings Report became the foundation for the campaign as well as an in-depth substance use disorder resource for the Health District.

Starting a conversation
Define and use language that alleviates stigma, aligns with science and respects those who are struggling.
Learn the language
How we talk about addiction matters

The tone of the campaign was crucial to its success. If messaging was too heavy, the community would tune it out as another insurmountable problem; too light, and people wouldn’t grasp the severity and scale of the public health crisis. Toolbox developed several communication themes in the Goldilocks zone — attention-grabbing, relatable, factual. Then we put them to the test.

Toolbox conducted focus groups with community members to see what language resonated best. While we had folks in the room, we also took stock of their current awareness of addiction in the community, as well as what they thought the barriers were to understanding the facts about the disease.

Rethink substance use disorders

The resulting campaign was dubbed Changing Minds — a factual statement that addiction physically changes the brain, as well as a call to action for people to change the way they think about addiction. Positive messaging broke down barriers between us (the community) and them (those living with addiction), presented the brain science in a nonjudgmental way and articulated the real cost of addiction in our community.

Since the mind is central to the disease and the campaign, Toolbox rolled out Changing Minds with actual braaaaaaaaains — interactive models of brains containing facts about addiction interspersed with contrasting fun statistics. The Brain Pods were launched at a large community festival, asking passersby, “What are the odds?” Visitors to the Brain Pods might learn that 1 in 300 million dies in a shark attack, but 1 in 10 of our neighbors lives with addiction. Should visitors wish to learn more about addiction, each fact card included a link to and the Brain Pod stand included a rack of fact-filled brochures.

With a large footprint, bright color palette, light-up brain spirals and engaging content, the Brain Pods made a splash at the festival and amassed extended exposure in the months to follow at local businesses.

Living proof

The Brain Pods were just the beginning. Toolbox developed a website chock full of information about substance use disorders — explanations of brain science and effective treatment options, illustrations of the cost of addiction, real-life stories of our neighbors living in recovery and resources for those suffering from the disease. Visitors to the site are encouraged to interact with slideshows, animations and deep content. And our community is challenged to learn more about addiction, be a conversation starter and start changing minds.

A complementary animated series launched on social media along with the campaign, driving traffic to the site and awareness of substance use disorders.

See how addiction alters the brain
Making a difference

As part of the Changing Minds campaign, Toolbox created a presentation and language guide for the Health District and its community partners to use to explain and raise awareness for addiction. Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, with more than one partner deeming the presentation the best explanation of addiction they’ve ever seen.

Changing Minds
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