Made From 9,000 Flowers, This Brain Sculpture Reveals a Key Message About Opioid Addiction

It's a disease, not a weakness, says McCann Health's NYC activation

In NYC's Herald Square, nonprofit Shatterproof's art installation made from pink carnations was speckled with black poppies to illustrate addiction as a disease. McCann Health
Headshot of David Griner

There’s little disagreement on the devastating scope of the opioid epidemic, but that doesn’t always mean there’s consensus on how it should be addressed.
With 130 Americans dying daily from opioid overdose, according  to a new campaign from nonprofit Shatterproof, some addiction specialists fear that misconceptions about the victims—specifically the view that their addiction stems from lack of self-control rather than a disease—are limiting our society’s ability to reverse the trend.
To this end, an attention-grabbing activation from McCann Health and Shatterproof aimed to show passersby in New York’s Herald Square how opioids can infect the brains of the addicted. McCann Health and McCann New York designed a brain sculpture made from 9,000 pink carnations, then gradually inserted black poppies to convey the effect of opioids.
If a visitor pulled one of the poppies in the “HopeStems” activation, it revealed a message about opioid addiction as a disease:

“Unfortunately, stigma remains a major barrier to care for most people with substance use issues,” says addiction expert Dr. Lipi Roy in a statement about the experiential activation. “As an addiction medicine specialist, I remind people every day of two key points: Addiction is a chronic medical illness, a disease of the brain, where relapse is expected. [Also,] addiction is not a sign of moral weakness or failure. Most people with addiction, once connected to the appropriate treatment and recovery services, get better.”
Shatterproof was founded through a $5 million donation by Gary Mendell, whose son died in 2011 after a lengthy struggle with opioid addiction. After his son’s death, Mendell was frustrated to learn how little addiction treatment was based on techniques with scientifically proven results. Shatterproof has since worked to close this gap.
Here’s a closer look at the activation, which was on display this week outside the Macy’s Flower Show:

Client: Shatterproof, NY
Lead Agency: McCann Health, New York
In Support – McCann NY
Public Relations Agency – Weber Shandwick
Global CCO – Matt Eastwood
President, North Americas – Amar Urhekar
President, McCann Health, New York (MHNY) – Leo Tarkovsky
Chief Creative Officer, MHNY – June Laffey
VP, ACD – Matt Sherring
ACD – Travis Borgess
Executive Producer – Deb Archambault
Producer – Phoebe Chao
ACD – Sage Romano
Senior Art Director – Kiril Shevyakov
Art Director- Nicole Myer
Account Director – Michael Mutchler
Gary Chu EVP, Managing Partner
SVP, Experience Strategy – Jacqueline LoveLock
EVP Executive Strategy Director – Erica Yahr
Experience Strategy Director – Anna Gaudio
Music composition: Jeremy Turner/Heatjt
Manager, Media Relations – Kat Romaniuk
Founder, Chairman and CEO – Gary Mendell
Director of Content Strategy – Stacy Gerard
Senior Communications Manager -Holly Jespersen
Senior Creative Manager – Jessica Ishikawa
Senior Editor – Jess Keefe
Director, Shatterproof Ambassador/Community Alliance Program – Lynne A. Nouvel
Director of Technology – Anthony Della Camera
Production Partners:
Waterlily Pond Floral Designers – Natasha Lisitsa, Daniel Schultz
Paper Floral Designers – Makerie Co, Julie Wilkinson
Greenhouse Provider – Exaco Co.
Portrait Photography – Gus Powell
Time Lapse Photography – Matt T Butler
Director of Photography – Eric Perini
Website Production – Dan Graham, SM2 Dev

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@griner David Griner is creative and innovation editor at Adweek and host of Adweek's podcast, "Yeah, That's Probably an Ad."