The stunt marketing campaign for a new mental health charity, and how it went terribly wrong (2024)

On the Suicide Reduction Trust, a viral marketing campaign, and a court hearing. A special edition of The Bulletin by Stewart Sowman-Lund. To receive The Bulletin in full each weekday,sign up here.

A prize too good to be true

Back in April, I spent some time looking into a fledgling charity called the Suicide Reduction Trust (SRT). It had caught my eye after a reader tip-off about a TradeMe listing they believed might be a scam. The listing advertised a raffle with the prize too good to be true: a free house. And not just any house, a $2m Auckland mansion, along with cash for furniture and a brand new Tesla to boot. The raffle was advertised as raising funds for the SRT, which had launched shortly before the win-a-house promotion. While TradeMe pulled the listing, telling The Bulletin that it went against its rules, the raffle was legitimate, as Stuff’sTony Wallreported at the time. But who was behind it and why?

A costly marketing exercise

The raffle had been issued a license by the Department of Internal Affairs in March, but questions remained about the Suicide Reduction Trust itself. RNZ’sKatie Fitzgeraldreported that the charity was unregistered and the DIA was assessing its application. The DIA confirmed to The Bulletin a decision had still not been made on the application.

The man behind the trust is Dave Jaques. According to Wall’s report, he has a varied past. A former police officer, truck driver and small engine mechanic, Jaques retrained as a lawyer and went bankrupt between 2006 and 2009. Thisreport in the NBR(paywalled) from 2017 detailed a failed lawsuit by Jaques against former business partners.

Speaking to The Bulletin in early April, Jaques said the raffle was a means to fund the charity, which he was inspired to launch because of a desire to develop “emotional awareness for men”. He added: “I wanted to help men talk nicer to their significant others [and] cope with anger management, and that has moved onto premature sudden death, which is of course not just about men and not about young – it’s everybody. Our point of difference is self-awareness and self-acceptance.”Jaques said he was funding the house being offered for the raffle, though Wall’s report for Stuff specified there was a cancellation clause dependant on raffle sales.It’s conditional upon his raffles being able to sell up until a certain date, if he can’t sell them, then… we’ll sell it to someone else,” Milestone Capital director Teghbir Singh told Stuff.

The trust launched a costly advertising campaign for the house raffle, with billboards around central Auckland and ads on TV and radio. But, as Stuff’sCaroline Williamsreported two weeks ago, it wasn’t enough to generate the level of ticket sales needed to justify giving away a house. Jaques said he required $2.5m in raffle sales, but as of late June, about ​​$232,000 worth of tickets had sold.

A stunt gone wrong

A couple of weeks ago, an email arrived in The Spinoff inboxes with a provocative and, to be frank, shocking subject line: “Auckland lawyer hangs himself on Auckland motorway overpass.” It was from Jaques, criticising the media for failing to cover his new charity. The body of the email clarified this was simply an attention-grabbing stunt. “I’m going to do you a favour and give you the newsworthy clickbait you so badly desire and this morning I’m going to hang myself from an Auckland motorway overpass and you’ll have the story you really want,” he wrote. A few hours later, reports started to emerge of a man dangling from an overbridge, attached to a harness, causing delays to shocked rush hour commuters after two lanes were closed by emergency service. Newshubreported that Jaques was throwing leaflets at the speeding traffic below. He was later charged in relation to offensive behaviour and endangering transport. A police spokesperson told The Bulletin he will appear in the Manukau District Court later this week, having been remanded on bail.

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    A post on the SRT’s websiteconfirmed that not enough funds had been raised for the house promotion and the raffle was cancelled. Refunds would be issued to anyone who had purchased tickets. “It had been the board’s intention to invite people to make a ‘donation’ with their refund, but given the level of hostility to [the] protest, and to prove the Trust was never in this for the money, we will not be making this suggestion in our communication to raffle ticket purchasers,” reads the statement. The board consists of Jaques and retired businessman Warren Megget. Afurther post confirmedthe board had not been alerted to the stunt in advance. Jaques acknowledged it could have “a profound impact on the Trust’s reputation and way of operating” and said “he may have in fact caused more harm than good”.

    The stunt marketing campaign for a new mental health charity, and how it went terribly wrong (1)

    The bigger picture

    While the SRT’s unusual approach to publicity is undoubtedly the most intriguing part of this story, there is a bigger picture. The charity has an admirable mission: reducing suicide in New Zealand. Though as Fitzgerald’s report for RNZ notes, the details of the work planned by Jaques and the trust are vague, such as “therapy that promotes self-acceptance”. The Trust’s websitehas details of some of the planned programmes, though whether these will be possible given the unsuccessful raffle fundraiser remains to be seen.

    Mental health has been a focus for the coalition government, with Matt Doocey appointed as the first minister for mental health.I spoke to Doocey last yearabout his ambitions for this portfolio, which included achieving cross-party support for mental health initiatives. Since taking office, the government has followed through on its pledge to fund Mike King’s Gumboot Friday. We looked at some of the controversy around this inThe Bulletin back in May. Before the weekend, the government launched new mental health targets, though asAdam Pearceat the Herald reported, there were questions around the lack of available data for some of these. The spotlight has also been on the government’s Suicide Prevention Office when, as reported here bythe Herald, it faced closure during a round of public sector job cuts. It was confirmed to stay open, but RNZ’sAnusha Bradleyreported in May that it might not have any full time staff despite added scrutiny over its performance.

    Even after Jaques’ arrest, large and provocative billboards for his trust remained on display around Auckland. One simply directs people to a YouTube video called “Suicide Guy has a big RANT”, which has around 750 views. It’s a hangover from an unfortunate publicity stunt gone wrong. But, in their eye-catching way, perhaps they’re still encouraging a deeper conversation around a difficult subject?

    The stunt marketing campaign for a new mental health charity, and how it went terribly wrong (2024)
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