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.

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1 Comment

  1. You made a number of good points there. I did a search on the topic and found a good number of people will agree with your blog.


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