The rate of U.S. military veteran suicide is truly horrifying. Research suggests roughly 22 veterans commit suicide every day, or one every 65 minutes. The goal of Mission 22—a collaboration between Elder Heart, the veteran nonprofit group, and ad agency CP+B—is to lower that number through awareness and outreach. And this Veterans Day, CP+B has released a unique radio ad as part of its efforts.
CP+B took audio recordings of a veteran who took his own life, Clay Ward, in which he talked despairingly about PSTD and edited them—reordering his words into a message of hope instead of frustration. The result is the radio ad you can listen to here:
It's a striking piece of audio. And while CP+B was well aware that digitally reconstructing Ward's voice—putting words in his mouth, essentially—was a provocative thing to do, the agency proceeded with the blessing of his widow, Sabine.
"She was incredibly grateful to be able to participate, because it's a way to bring some meaning and purpose and hope to other families, to avoid the tragedy that she and her family have experienced," says Henry Gonzalez, group account director at CP+B Miami.
CP+B executive creative director Gustavo Sarkis says the agency worked with audio postproduction house Heard City in New York to painstakingly deconstruct and reconstruct the recordings. The result is noticeably choppy at times—but in a way that is good, Sarkis says, because it feels like a broken life being put back together.
"There are some discrepancies here and there of tone, and we had to really work on it to make it sound as nice and smooth as we could," Sarkis says. "But at the same time, we thought it was good that you can notice that it's been patched together piece by piece, because that is what the message is all about."
Having this message come from a veteran is also important.
"A lot of soldiers with PTSD, they talk about it, they verbalize it publicly with family and friends," Sarkis says. "We thought, 'What if we gathered recordings from these soldiers and transformed them into a positive message of hope?' And soldiers, military people, veterans—they're much more likely to listen to other soldiers."
The radio spot aired earlier this fall on a few local stations in Texas, where Ward grew up. It will be airing today on several Miami stations (790 The Ticket, Magic 102.7, Lite 101.5 and 104.3 The Shark) thanks to donated media from Entercom.
Ward's story was also told earlier this year in a Memorial Day print campaign from CP+B that featured a war photographer's shots of the homes where veterans committed suicide. The photo at the top of this story is from that campaign, and shows the swimming pool where Ward shot himself to death in 2013.