Tackling teen male zombies

The ‘Something haunting you’ campaign image HUMANITIES

Exam stress, relationship problems, driving test pressure and body image insecurities are among the typical worries that haunt the minds of young males on the cusp of adulthood.

With 40 per cent of young men likely to experience some level of emotional distress between the ages of 15 and 17, this is a delicate age, made worse for those who may be too shy or reticent to speak up about what’s on their mind.

But help is at hand, in the unlikely form of … zombies.

Something Haunting You is a new multimedia campaign which has just been launched by the Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre (CRC), designed to humorously help young men identify the ‘zombies’ in their lives and overcome stress.

Dr Barbara Spears The campaign was developed in partnership with young people, a creative agency and UniSA. UniSA’s role, led by Dr Barbara Spears (pictured right), is to provide insight into how young people perceive key issues related to their safety and wellbeing, how they interact with digital campaigns and how effective those campaigns are in influencing or changing attitudes and behaviour.

“We have learnt from previous campaigns and associated research, that unless young people are involved in the co-design of the campaign, there is a lack of authenticity for them. Also, if they are not playful and fun, they will not engage,” Dr Spears says.

“The zombie trope is engaging for young men, because it is a fun and playful way of approaching everyday stressors, such as exam stress and learning to drive. It was developed in close association with young men who have highlighted the importance of using humour and interesting abstract concepts to encourage them to tackle very real problems.”

The digital campaign, which is being run across popular online platforms including Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, has its own dedicated website which offers a ‘survival guide’ to help participants identify the stressors in their lives and how to target their problems before they turn into monsters.

Participants can click onto a range of ‘zombie’ headings, such as body doubt, nightime ambush and family trouble, and learn how to handle these zombies by deploying ‘weapons’ (online help links and tips) designed to tackle these stressors.

The UniSA research team has a built a framework around the campaign, to determine its impact and effect, with follow up interviews with participants to register their engagement with, and experience of, the campaign.

Analytics will map user engagement of the site and determine which aspects of the platform young people, and young men in particular, are choosing to engage with: the video, the comics and/or the help-seeking links.

“Many campaign evaluations only look at the reach of the campaign, and do not really capture whether or not attitudes and behaviours are being impacted. In this instance, we are examining whether young men in particular respond to this campaign,” Dr Spears says.

“The follow up research will inform the extent to which it has engaged others in the message: that dealing with everyday stressors, and learning to reach out for help, is one way of dealing with the stress/zombie that follows you around.

“Dealing with it is easier if you reach out, and this practice will make it easier for you to seek help if faced with a bigger problem in the future.”

The ‘Something haunting you’ campaign imageWith Gorillaz-style animation, the campaign is visually captivating and, while riding the zombie zeitgeist, it unpacks positive, proactive messages around the sensitive and serious issue of young men’s wellbeing.

Young and Well CRC CEO, Associate Professor Jane Burns, welcomed the campaign as an innovative and targeted way to speak to a specific, notoriously hard-to-reach group.

“Our research has shown us the extent of the emotional distress of our young men, and that despite significant work in stigma reduction, we are still not seeing an increase in help-seeking,” she says.

“Our research and development looks at innovative ways to engage with young people, putting them at the centre of designing campaign concepts which resonate with that audience.”

The Young and Well CRC is an international research centre that explores the role of technology in young people’s lives, and how it can be used to improve the mental health and wellbeing of young people aged 12 to 25.