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Indiana Family and Social Services Administration

Want to Defeat Addiction? Start by Tackling Its Stigma

The State of Indiana’s Family and Social Services Administration (FSSA) is a health care and social services funding agency that oversees delivery of human services in Indiana, touching the lives of more than 1.5 million Hoosiers. Williams Randall's work for FSSA involved a uniquely targeted campaign against addiction – also called Substance Use Disorder (SUD). The strategy was a unique one: it addressed the disease indirectly by tackling the stigma surrounding it. 

Sourcing research both national and statewide in scope, Williams Randall learned that the stigma of addiction can take many different forms and affects more than just the person with the SUD. It can cause friends, neighbors and even family to shun their loved one, and have a chilling effect on whether the person seeks help for their disease ...or even discusses it with anyone. In 2021, 4.2 million Americans who felt they needed treatment for an SUD didn't seek it for fear of the stigma in their community. With one in twelve Hoosiers meeting the criteria for substance use disorder, the stigma itself constitutes a significant barrier to even beginning to address the addiction itself.

Thus grounded, our research now entered a new phase: combing over testimonial after testimonial from people living with an SUD. A theme quickly emerged: those with an SUD frequently reported feeling dehumanized by the stigma of their disease; when treated like human beings it was possible for them to face up to their addiction. That revelation grew into “See Beyond the Addiction,” the eventual name and tagline of our campaign. It urges audiences to look past the disease, and acknowledge the common humanity we all share. We refined the message by testing campaign language and imagery with extensive focus groups composed of the target audience: a statewide sampling of Hoosiers over 18. We saw what resonated with that audience …and what still needed work. 

Our message carefully honed, we were ready to roll out the far-reaching, ambitious campaign. Leading the way were a pair of TV spots fleshing out the “See Beyond…” message through the stories of two characters: Miles, someone with a SUD living in recovery, and Brenda, the parent of a daughter who had lived through a SUD and, like Miles in the other story, was now living in recovery. 

From the TV commercials flowed a number of other components, all carrying the “See Beyond…” look and feel: radio ads, online display ads, and outreach materials. Additionally, a “See Beyond the Addiction” microsite was built into the FSSA’s website (itself a subsite of the all-encompassing in.gov, the Indiana government’s main online presence).

Four months on from its launch, the campaign had delivered over 50 million impressions and more than 238,000 clicks

Most of the time, advertising is about convincing an audience to buy or take note of a product or service. While Williams Randall certainly excels at that kind of marketing, we’ve never never shied away from more socially significant work - advertising with the potential to do real good in the world, perhaps even save lives. It is always our honor to do such work, and we’re grateful to the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration for trusting our agency to tell the world its message about the value and necessity of fighting the stigma of addiction. 


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