Marketing and mental health


Charlene Coughlin '05

Charlene Coughlin, marketing professional and Bluffton University graduate, explored the power of advertising on mental health.

1 in 5 adults live with mental illness

During her 15-year career in marketing, 2005 Bluffton University graduate Charlene Coughlin has witnessed (and participated in) a shift in the industry toward positive marketing and advertising which can make an impact on a community.  

“As marketers, we have the responsibility to do not only what’s right for the client but also for their customers,” explained the president of TWIST Creative. “We can both positively and negatively start a conversation. Our team often talks about how we can change culture through our advertising campaigns, and I think that’s what we’ve seen the last few years.” 

Coughlin, who’s worked with companies ranging from Sherwin Williams to the Cleveland Natural History Museum, shared several examples of positive marketing during the Sept. 12 Forum “Marketing and Mental Health – The Industry’s Impact on Individuals and Communities” in Bluffton’s Yoder Recital Hall. 

She started the presentation by acknowledging the relatively recent growth in both advertising and mental health issues. When Coughlin started her career, the main forms of advertising were billboards, tv commercials and radio spots. Largely due to the rise of social media, Coughlin said consumers now experience 4,000-10,000 advertisements each day. In addition, more than one in five adults are now living with mental illness.  

Coughlin played campaigns created for businesses such as Bell Communications, a company which has raised awareness of mental health issues for more than a decade while also donating millions of dollars in support through its “Let’s Talk” campaign. 

“They focus on fighting the stigma of mental health awareness, providing access to care, as well as educating their employers on how they can best help each other,” said Coughlin. “These steps are not only impacting the lives of those within the company, but they’re also impacting the community as a whole.”

In addition to being the right thing to do, Coughlin explained that this style of messaging is also good for business. However, the message must be sincere and align with the company’s values.

“By taking part in the conversation, their bottom line is increasing,” said Coughlin, who pointed to the Always “Like a Girl” campaign for empowering women and celebrity makeup brand Rare Beauty, which focuses on mental health content.   

“At the end of the day, consumers will know within a second if it’s inauthentic,” said Coughlin. “Is the brand/company doing what’s right for them internally. Does it reflect their own values? Does it reflect who they are as a company?”

To highlight this point, Coughlin shared more about TWIST Creative and a campaign they completed to celebrate their 20th anniversary centered on showing love to your neighbors. Coughlin explained the campaign was authentic to the brand because 50 percent of the company’s clients are non-profits. 

The company’s values resonated with her and were one of the reasons why she joined the team. Through TWIST Creative, she’s been able to help her community as a volunteer including serving on the board of an emergency shelter for children called Providence House. 

“We’ve seen advertising and marketing change the conversation with not just mental health awareness but also with topics related to diversity and equity to inclusion and voters rights, poverty and more,” said Coughlin. “Topics that are difficult conversations to have but with the right message, can change the conversation.” 

The Forum connected to Bluffton’s yearlong exploration of the theme: Exploring the Continuum of Emotional Wellness.