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Behind the Campaign: MNAPG “Just as Real”

Agency News | January 20, 2024 | 3 min read

Earlier this year, we rolled out a gripping new visual PSA for our client at the Minnesota Alliance on Problem Gambling, which reveals the truth of gambling addiction: it’s a real, life-consuming addiction, just like any other.

The campaign has since received three awards from the international Muse Creative Awards. Additionally, the MNAPG has seen a 134% increase in traffic, and site conversion increased by an eye-popping 17,000%, indicating that people are really getting help.

We sat down with Brett Essman, Creative Director at Preston Spire, to learn more about the inspiration behind the campaign and what it took to bring it to life.

Tell us about the aim of the spot—what was MNAPG’s ultimate goal?

As gaming expands into sports betting, off-track, and online gambling, along with a record number of new casinos, gambling addiction is on the rise. However, there is a misconception, sometimes even among those with a problem, that gambling addiction is somehow not a real addiction. Rather, it’s seen as a lack of willpower or a moral weakness. By now we know when someone is hooked on drugs, alcohol or even cigarettes, they have a serious addiction. Our goal was to convince viewers that gambling is just as real as those other addictions.

How did this idea come to life?

When (Senior Copywriter) Aylâ Larsen and I started working on this, we knew we were up against a mighty Goliath. The gaming industry literally spends hundreds of millions of dollars in Minnesota encouraging people to gamble. So to compete with this giant voice, our campaign needed to be bold and provocative, or it would fall on deaf ears. Any “safe idea” was DOA. We held ourselves to a “must breakthrough” standard. We went in with three really strong ideas, but what sold the client on the power of “Just As Real” was the instant impact of it. During the video call presentation, we mimed all the actions in the commercial, and when we did the cocaine scene, the client said “wow, I felt that.” And we knew we had a winner.

Were there any barriers or challenges you faced during the creative process?

One of the production challenges we faced was how to visually make the decks of cards represent the addictions people were already familiar with. Could it represent alcohol? Drugs? The card box already looks like a pack of cigarettes, so that one was easy. But “smoking a box of cards” is quite awkward. So we were all trying to figure out the most natural way to make that work, without it looking comical. Sound design helped quite a bit as did the amazing abilities of our actor. One interesting thing we discovered after our shoot was how far we could, or could not, push the idea.

How did you land on the look and feel of the spot?

We didn’t want this to feel like an ad, but rather capture the emotion you’d typically find in a
cinematic film. We looked at a lot of David Fincher films, especially with how he treated the color and scene composition. Since we wanted to show that our addicted actor has hit rock bottom, if you will, it couldn’t be bright and cheery, but rather, gritty and dark to really make you feel something and instantly grab your attention.

What kind of feedback have you gotten about the spot?

We’ve received a lot of positive feedback about the impact of the piece. Most importantly the spot has generated over 5.7 million media impressions and earned another 1.2 million via PR around the creative idea.

From pre- and post-campaign surveys when people are exposed to the spot, we’ve seen a 35% increase in the understanding that an addiction to gambling is a lot like addiction to drugs and alcohol, and an impressive jump from 34% to 80% in the understanding that help is free and available.