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Why Ford launched its mental health ad despite not winning Channel 4 award

If Ford can help get people talking about mental illness and raise awareness of this often invisible disability, then its latest campaign will have fulfilled its purpose, according to the company’s marketing director Lisa Brankin.

Speaking to Marketing Week, Brankin says “a range of stars had aligned” when the global car manufacturer decided to go ahead and produce the campaign it pitched to Channel 4 as part of the broadcaster’s 2017 £1m Diversity in Advertising Award, despite not winning as it “fit with what Ford was doing as a brand”.

The winner of the annual award receives £1m of free airtime, and despite Channel 4 saying it would match up to £250,000 of airtime for four runners-up, Ford was the only brand to take the broadcaster up on its offer.

The finished product, an ad titled ‘Elephant in the Transit’, shows two men sitting side-by-side in a van when the driver asks his friend if he’s “still on for Friday night?”.

His friend, the passenger, offers a rather muted response which prompts the driver to pull over and ask him what’s wrong.

Nestled between the pair is giant elephant, which symbolises the fact mental illness affects one in four people at some point in their lives yet many are reluctant to speak out about it.
Meeting the wider business objective

Brankin says despite not winning the award, Ford was always going to go ahead with the campaign as it felt it was an important message and one that aligned with the brand’s wider business objectives.

“We took the idea of being ‘bigger and bolder’ by asking ourselves if we could have a bigger point-of-view on an issue,” she says.

“Mental health is an issue we’ve become more aware of as a company. At the time our HR team had been doing a lot of work around mental health, and we thought, this is something [a mental health campaign] we’ve never done before.”

In collaboration with creative agency GTB, Ford discussed a number of ideas before landing on ‘Elephant in the Transit’ which was then flagged internally with non-marketing teams and the company’s internal diversity group, all of which signed off on it without a problem.

“Everyone felt it was the right thing to do and it aligned with what we were trying to do as a business. Once we came up with that idea we thought it was the perfect way to get our message across,” she says.