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New anti-bullying PSA says a kind word can change a teen’s life

The Ad Council flips the typical bullying script to show the consequences of kindness.

New anti-bullying PSA says a kind word can change a teen’s life
[Photo: Thought Catalog/Unsplash]

To young people in school right now, anti-bullying PSAs are as ubiquitous as “Just Say No” was to kids of the ’80s. But according to the Ad Council, studies show that meanness among teens is actually on the rise. Over two-thirds of teens say they have been bullied, but only 20% think they may have actually bullied someone. The lines between sarcasm, joking, and bullying have been blurred, normalizing unkind and hurtful behavior. So for its newest PSA campaign, just ahead of National Anti-Bullying Month in October, the organization decided to go beyond a bullying-is-bad message, and focus on the consequences of kindness.

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Created with agency TBD and L.A.-based creative studio Adolescent, the campaign consists of two spots, both of which feature real teens talking about how mean and kind words have impacted their lives. TBD chief creative officer Rafael Rizuto says the main insight that led to the idea is that teens don’t often realize the consequences of their actions.

“We didn’t want our work to point fingers to anyone, to sound preachy or to simply show teenagers that bullying is wrong. It’s been proven that this approach doesn’t work,” says Rizuto. “In fact, we ended up learning in this process that the word ‘bullying’ doesn’t even resonate with them anymore, even though they still experience drama and a culture of meanness on a daily basis.” 

The first spot, “Because of You” starts out like a typical anti-bullying PSA might, outlining bullying behavior, but then changes direction to show the positive impact of kindness. “Honest Yearbook” takes a familiar ad device of surprising participants with an unexpectedly emotional situation. What teens thought was just a regular yearbook photo shoot turned into a tearful and touching thank you.

“Instead of telling teens what to do, we wanted to show them the power their actions have,” says Rizuto. “That every day they have the power to make someone else’s day better or worse.”

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About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity. He lives in Toronto.

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