The Variable Art Director Launches Side Project To Support Mental Health

As stress and depression take their toll on the industry during the pandemic The Variable’s JW Affourtit is spearheading the development of a platform for people to express what they’re feeling and to read about others going through similar ordeals, with complete anonymity.

"Creativity has always been my outlet for my mental health, I love that I get to do it daily for a paycheck,” he explains. However, he realizes social media doesn’t provide many adequate alternatives for other people seeking ways to express their frustrations and concerns.

There are the toxic negative platforms and cyber-bullying. Then there are the fake overly positive, yet maybe not entirely accurate Instagram postings. Plus, people are cautious because most of social media is not entirely anonymous. Whatever they discuss will always be out in the world, he says.

After about “20 minutes” of deliberation about the ideal website, Affourtit decided to launch, a completely anonymous platform where everyone can share thoughts and feelings or whatever they may be going through. His inspiration was equal parts Fishbowl, best known as the ad industry gossip forum and the massively popular Reddit. Both serve as honest communities where everyone is equal to sharing their voice, he says.

Affourtit solicited feedback from his colleagues at NC-based The Variable. “We have access to leadership and there are not the layers that you find at other shops,” he says. In fact, Affourtit quickly developed a prototype that he sent to Variable CCO and co-founder Joe Parrish. Even though Parrish was on vacation at the time, he immediately replied “Love it. Talk tomorrow.”

Enthusiastic team members worked with Affourtit to further develop and strengthen the platform. Part of the idea: eliminate approval and acceptance. “There's no likes, no shares, no comments, just a place to be heard and not seen,” he explains. Others helped to suggest a 250-character limitation as well as filters to block hate speech and bad words, among other restrictions. After realizing people are “sucked into reading bad news,” will have a timer forcing the reader to pause after reading five submissions. They will instead be served mental health tips and entertaining content.

Monetization is not a priority. Affourtit admits he was pleased when he heard Variable leadership affirmed a strong “no” when someone inquired about possible advertising opportunities. He does hope to align with non-profits and develop mutually beneficial relationships with mental health organizations. He personally volunteers with a local trans-youth group that is expected to be one of their first partners. He is also leveraging all of his agency connections to help jumpstart viral buzz and usage. He hopes many in the ad industry use to submit their own personal stories.

The effort is a work-in-progress. Affourtit is unsure whether it will need a full-time moderator to help those in distress. He is also unsure what to do if the platform to a darker side as some forums have but it is something he is closely monitoring. He does note there are some positive postings, including one who expressed a “man-crush on Zac Efron.” The poster adds, “I feel no shame about it.”



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