Me and the Asda ‘mental patient’ advert


This originally appeared on the Charity Comms blog in October 2013 when I was still working at Rethink Mental Illness as Digital Manager – I am now Digital Manager at Mind, the mental health charity.

Learnings from a Twitter storm

Asda’s ‘Mental Patient’ fancy dress costume controversy started as a flurry of tweets and morphed into a spirited fightback against the damaging impact of mental health stigma.

It showed that charity campaigns are no longer just dreamed up in meeting rooms and pushed out to the waiting general public. They can just happen, brought into existence by the audiences themselves in an amazingly exciting way.

As a charity, we’re used to reacting quickly to emerging events. This often means connecting people with information and support online; we’ve also done things like live tweeting during potentially controversial mental health programmes. Then there are days when news of Asda’s stunningly insensitive Halloween outfit – comprising a torn, blood stained shirt, plastic meat cleaver and gory facemask labelled as a ‘Mental Patient Fancy Dress Costume’– hit the national headlines.

On the evening of 25 September we were preparing to release a report about the fact that thousands of people with mental illness are dying needlessly every year. It was called #LethalDiscrimination because of the way the issue is being overlooked – little did we know that mental health discrimination was going to dominate the news agenda in quite the way it did. After 10pm, our associate director of campaigns alerted me to the fact that a Halloween costume was being discussed on Twitter. “Everyone will be running away from you in fear in this mental patient fancy dress costume,” went the product description.

I was at the train station on my way home, hurriedly loading up the Asda webpage and tweeting as I went. One way of dealing with a breaking situation like this would be not to say anything until various colleagues are consulted. I suspect what stops some charities from engaging fully with social media is a fear of saying the wrong thing – an attitude that might suggest our role is primarily to lead supporters by taking careful steps forward.

Responding to our Twitter followers, I asked them to bear with us while we absorbed the news and asked Asda what was going on. Any fear of ‘saying the wrong thing’ was not applicable – our supporters wanted to know what was going on too.

We at Rethink Mental Illness, our mental health charity ally Mind and the Time to Change campaign we run together – all released statements and provided interviews to the press.

There were people who identified the anti-ASDA outcry as ‘political correctness gone mad’. This was quickly refuted by the spontaneous emergence of a #mentalpatient hashtag, which saw people with mental health issues sharing everyday pictures of themselves to make the point that ‘mental patients’ are, as Rethink Mental Illness chief executive Paul Jenkins said, “not a strange group of other people locked away at the fringe of society.”

Both Rethink Mental Illness and Mind retweeted the photos throughout the day – stigma confronted and confounded by the creativity of individuals. The consequences of stigma are nothing to dismiss: as Paul said, “the sense that others may fear you can be the last straw.”

We hoped to boost the grassroots campaign and inspire confidence with a #mentalpatient snap of our casually-dressed colleague Lizzie ‘photoshopped’ into the original ASDA product page. The Facebook post was our most successful ever, reaching 150,000 people and motivating yet more people to join in the #mentalpatient fun – and it was fun!

As the dust settled on Friday, we received an email from a creative agency referring to the previous day’s events, seemingly hoping to secure business from us. They talked about how they could help “educate our audience”, which struck me as an increasingly archaic attitude – especially in these circumstances. What we at Rethink Mental Illness are doing on social media is holding a conversation. We’re chatting with some of the most highly-qualified people in the whole of the mental health world – our ‘experts by experience’. Increasingly we’re finding that our role is to simply empower them and amplify their voices. What the Asda protest should demonstrate to any organisation – charity or otherwise – is just how inspiring and influential your audience can be.


Charities and the genius in the crowd – Slideshare


I gave a presentation to CharityComms in early 2014 where this presentation was called ‘An amplifier not a mouthpiece’ – I thought it might be useful to upload it to Slideshare with a slight name change and some notes on the slides to make up for the lack of speaking… actually, if you’ve heard me speak you’ll realise that’s a benefit more than anything.

One thing I think is worth noting – my presentation and the events it describes around the #mentalpatient hashtag (written about elsewhere in this site) pre-dates the spontaneous, user-led #nomakeup selfie phenomenon.

(Please excuse the bad styling and weird fonts! This is due to exporting/importing between Mac and PC)


‘The Bob Test’ for online donation


Mark Lawson’s recent interview with Bob Geldof revealed that lessons about usability can come from nearly 30 years ago. When reminded of his infamous swearing on Live Aid in 1985 Bob says to Mark:

“I was complaining about the fact that, at the time the announcers, the DJs, were talking about writing in your cheque but that world had gone, and it was like ‘No, it needs to be more immediate, get on the phones’”

And then they played the clip which revealed that Bob didn’t say “Give us your f**king money” at all. When the DJ host said “We’re going to give the address first aren’t we?” He responds: “F**k the address, let’s get the numbers”.

He wasn’t frustrated about Live Aid donors not being motivated enough, he was swearing about the rubbish means of donation being offered to them…about usability!

It’s rare that the issue of charity donation is talked about so publicly and emotionally. A TED talk by Dan Pallotta was – rightly – shared a lot and applauded. His main emphasis was on the destructive tendency of seeing charities as needing to perform ‘efficiently’ at the expense of grand ambitions that can achieve huge outcomes and even change society.

It’s hard to imagine an  inspiring TED talk about ensuring online donation journeys are fast, focused and incessantly optimised. But what’s the point of big, hairy, ambitious fundraising goals if the user is left waiting for the page to load, or distracted by other links, or slapped with a massive interstitial Cookie warning?

Many charity websites have have superb  donation journeys. But some seem to act as if getting people to click on the Donate button is the objective, that getting us to want to give is enough. A bit like the short-sightedness of the DJ on Live Aid who shows a moving and inspiring film, then asks people to remember where the chequebook is,  go and hunt for an envelope and ask someone for a pen (instead of just reach over and pick up the phone).

Motivating people to donate is the art, but it’s nothing without the good ol’ boring craft of test, tweak, polish (repeat) – user-focused processes, which Bob Geldof might say are also deeply f**king important. Perhaps charities should run ‘The Bob Test’ – would the online donation process make him swear and, if so, how badly?


Does your charity punch above its weight in digital? Check the PAW Score!



There’s a fair bit written about how charities can use digital to ‘punch above their weight’. But exactly who is doing it well at the moment? 

The PAW score is my name for comparing two charity performance indicators from Third Sector Research – the Charity Online Index and the Charity Brand Index. The raw data is freely available from Third Sector Research in the form of report previews.

I wanted to see how my charity (I’m currently Digital Communications Manager at Rethink Mental Illness) fared in terms of how we ‘punch above our weight’ – hence PAW – for digital performance, and thought that a simple comparison of the two indices would be interesting. And I think it is!

However, what it isn’t is perfect – it is *just* a comparison of two rankings from the same organisation, nothing more…(except an excuse to use a photo of a punchy kitten).

The full blog post contains the full data and lists, so I made it into a PDF – and you don’t have to give me your email address to get it :)

And here’s the Top 10!


Charity digital PAW score 2013 – TOP 10

Brand Rank-Online Rank

1 Wood Green Animal Shelters 90
2 Eden Project / Eden Trust 74
3 Sustrans 65
4 RAFBF / The Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund 59
5 Rethink Mental Illness / National Schizophrenia Fellowship 55
6 MSF UK / Medecins sans Frontieres 41
7 ActionAid 40
8 Tearfund 39
9 The Children’s Trust 39
10 Girlguiding 38

Feel free to leave a comment – thanks!


9 great things from the book Switch by Chip and Dan Heath

I love Chip and Dan Heath, as is noted elsewhere in this blog, so I hope that they won’t mind me pulling out a few tiny (ish) chunks from their change management book Switch for this piece. There’s some great stuff here but far more in the book itself so buy the book or get it from the library – it’s interesting and useful!

Extract from Switch by Chip and Dan Heath

1. The Elephant and the Rider

One overriding concept in Switch is to see people as having ‘an Elephant and a Rider’. This is the Heath’s way of splitting one’s emotional and quick to react persona from the logical and analytical one. For example, the Elephant goes charging off if alarmed, and sometimes the Rider struggles to control it. The model works pretty well – certainly the mental image is simple and sustains well across different applications. It’s certainly a bit more mentally sticky than Daniel Kanneman’s System 1 and System 2 for intuition and reasoning respectively (which seems to be a very similar duality to the Heaths’).

2. Bright spots

Bright spots are the glimpses of light at the end of the tunnel that the Heaths implore us to search for when surrounded by apparent dead-ends. Even a glimmer of light can lead to important, effective change. The Heaths relate the story of an aid worker addressing high infant mortality in a community. Just one or two families did not fit the pattern, and it turned out they fed their children in a different way to others – not hugely differently, but enough to make a crucial change. They latched onto this fact and spread a minor behaviour modification which saved childrens’ lives.

3. Knowing is not enough

As the Heaths say, if knowing equated to behaviour change, no doctor would smoke or drink too much. Enough said. We have, as they say, got to ‘find the feeling’. In a similar vein they talk about ‘TBU’

TBU—true but useless. It was paralyzing knowledge.

4. The Miracle Question

There’s a form of therapy described in the book that uses what is called ‘the miracle question’ – “While you are sleeping, a miracle happens and all the troubles that brought you here are resolved. When you wake up in the morning, what’s the first small sign you’d see that would make you think the problem is gone?” Note, this isn’t asking you to describe the ‘miracle’ itself but rather a tangible sign that it happened. At the very least this is an interesting approach in breaking down a ‘massive problem’ into something more bite-sized. Which leads me to….

5 .Their Dad

(Our dad, Fred Heath, who worked over thirty years for IBM, would tell his teams that when “milestones” seemed too distant, they should look for “inch pebbles.” Nice one, Dad.)

6. Destination postcard

In another Heath Bros book, Made to Stick there are some interesting case studies about the need to make strategic goals simple and singular (I quite like using JFK’s “sending an American safely to the Moon before the end of the decade” as an example of clarity and ambition). In Switch the Heaths use a nice image for a smaller, near-to objective:

We want what we might call a destination postcard—a vivid picture from the near-term future that shows what could be possible.

7. Exposure effect

…which means that the more you’re exposed to something, the more you like it. For instance, when the Eiffel Tower was first erected, Parisians hated it. They thought it was a half-finished skeletal blight on their fair city, and they responded with a frenzy of protest.

8. The way that ‘designated drivers’ became a thing in the US

Brilliantly, it seems that having a ‘designated driver’ was created from nothing, simply by infiltrating TV.

Winsten and his team collaborated with producers, writers, and actors from more than 160 prime-time TV programs, sprinkling designated-driver moments naturally into the plots. Segments featuring designated drivers appeared on Hunter, The Cosby Show, Mr. Belvedere, and Who’s the Boss? On an episode of the smash-hit 1980s legal drama L.A. Law, the heart throb lawyer played by Harry Hamlin asked a bartender to call his designated driver. A designated-driver poster appeared in the bar on Cheers.

No-one had ever heard of designated drivers before this – and then people just assumed it was a thing, because it was on TV. Well, if people are going to be led by the media they passively consume at least this is for good (I’m going to stop there before I get all Chomsky…)

9. Identity instead of interest

I’m going to quote a big chunk here because (a) it’s really good (b) I’m not going to be able to paraphrase it that well and (c) I’m that kind of person…

“…when people make choices, they tend to rely on one of two basic models of decision making: the consequences model or the identity model. The consequences model is familiar to students of economics. It assumes that when we have a decision to make, we weigh the costs and benefits of our options

…In the identity model of decision making, we essentially ask ourselves three questions when we have a decision to make: Who am I? What kind of situation is this? What would someone like me do in this situation?

…Because identities are central to the way people make decisions, any change effort that violates someone’s identity is likely doomed to failure. (That’s why it’s so clumsy when people instinctively reach for “incentives” to change other people’s behavior.)”

There’s a great example in the book of how getting people to do a small, neighbourly, action (putting a ‘drive safely’ sign in the window of their house) makes them far more likely to accede to other socially conscious actions that have a bigger impact on their house (massive ‘drive safely’ billboards on their lawn!).*

* – Now at this point I can almost hear Robert Cialdini, author of Influence (another great book  which I plan to write about soon) protesting that this is a case of people wanting to to avoid appearing self-contradictory and therefore untrustworthy. That it is less about evoking a positive sense of identity than it is about triggering a negative one. Well, imaginary Robert Cialdini, you may well be right, but it’s still a great case study. And there’s one about parrots which is better.

Anyway, to find out about the parrots and more, buy the book – I promise you I’m not on any kind of commission, backsheesh, vigorish or cut, it’s just really good.