Hill Holliday Changes the World One Smile at a Time


Bostonians see all types of weather patterns. Most involve the color gray. But excuse us if our outlook isn’t quite as dull. You see, we tend to be a surprisingly happy lot. Yet even we have our share of loneliness.

That’s where the Samaritans come in. The Samaritans is the only suicide prevention organization in greater Boston. They aim to: “alleviate despair, isolation, distress and suicidal feelings among individuals in our community, 24 hours a day; educate the public about suicide prevention; and to reduce the stigma associated with suicide.”

The Samaritans are perhaps best recognized for their anti-suicide signs on bridges.  Wanting to increase visibility beyond that and to attract additional investors, they approached Boston based ad agency Hill Holliday with a request for some pro bono work.

According to a recent Boston Globe article, Hill Holliday thought that the Samaritans would seem less somber of an organization if people recognized the humanity behind their services.

“…people always think of Sagamore Bridge — if you’re feeling depressed, call the Samaritans. As a result, the Samaritans were always linked to suicide, to depression,” said Hill Holliday CEO, Mike Sheehan.

That’s where a big idea came in. Why not shift the focus to being about making Boston even happier? To do this Hill Holliday would set up multiple social experiments aimed at simply making people smile. Not only could the average person get behind this, but it would also increase visibility for potential Samaritans investors.

It all started with Hi Five in the 5th on September 22nd, a social experiment that asked everyone in attendance at a Red Sox game to high five their neighbors. The result was just what Hill Holliday had hoped for—toothy smiles all around. Other experiments followed: orange giveaways at the Government Center stop,  welcome parties at North Station, and elevator a capellas. More toothy smiles followed.

It was all tied together on happierboston.org. On the site, people can upload the locations in Boston that make them happy and listen to Mayor Menino sing the pothole blues.

How effective is the Happier Boston campaign? In hindsight it’s hard to tell from an analytics perspective. After all, it’s hard to measure happiness based on a few contagious smiles. But this shoestring-budgeted campaign shows that enduring big ideas are still relevant in the modern world.  It understands that everyone wants to feel connected in this world—that no one wants to be lonely.

40 Actors Play One Part in Film Sponsored by Intel & Toshiba

Guy falls in love, guy struggles to get girl, guy gets girl. That’s how most Hollywood romance stories go. But it gets more complicated when a few dozen different actors, some of them female, play the same guy. That’s the concept behind The Beauty Inside, an interactive social film funded by Intel and Toshiba.

Here’s the premise: Every time a guy named Alex goes to sleep, he wakes up a completely new person. He could become any ethnicity, any gender, any body type, but he’s still essentially the same person on the inside.  Alex uses his Toshiba laptop as the means to record his daily transformations and subsequent struggles to connect with the outside world.

What makes Intel and Toshiba’s The Beauty Inside special is that it used social media to engage an audience like no other interactive film before it. The Beauty Inside was the first film to feature both everyday people and Hollywood actors as leads. Intel and Toshiba asked people to audition for the part of Alex by posting videos and pictures of themselves on the film’s Facebook page. The winners were featured either in the film or on the film’s timeline.

Not only was the audience a part of The Beauty Inside, they were the film. They shaped who Alex would become on a daily basis. By cheering for Alex, the audience was essentially cheering for themselves. This created a deep participatory experience that went beyond product placement.


A small case of Multiple Body Disorder

The Beauty Inside resonates because it doesn’t tell youth how to look or how to feel. You want to be yourself. Okay. Toshiba & Intel understand. Be yourself. Be real. In turn, we’ll put you in a movie. That says a whole lot, without saying a whole lot.

 Toshiba’s and Intel’s Big Insight


The Beauty Inside is the natural evolution of advertainment like BMW Film’s seminal The Hire. Released in 2001, The Hire succeeded where traditional 30-second spots rarely could in that it drove millions of consumers to seek it out, rather than avoid it like the plague. Here was a fiery, entertaining film that openly had a brand as hero, and millions of consumers still wanted to see it.

Following in the footsteps of The Hire, Intel and Toshiba created The Beauty Inside because they struggle to take market share from youth-oriented companies like Apple. Intel and Toshiba wanted to find a way to show that they are still relevant to youth. Through research they noticed that youth use laptops for more than just work; they use them to be entertained. Armed with this insight, they created social films, a combination of gaming, social media, and movies.  What better way to stay relevant than to meet youth where they spend time?