Santa’s privilege check: Kringle rethinks the ‘Naughty or Nice?’ list in a remarkable mental health ad

Recently I’ve pointed out the vast need to address mental health, especially for children, in the US. To be reminded of how personally decimating the damage from this is, consider Gabriel Taye who died of suicide last month, he was eight.

But there’s progress and no better time to address mental health than in the trying dark of Winter. Passing through Logan Airport, I note McLean Hospital featuring over a dozen profiles of people discussing their mental health treatment. And this week, the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) is releasing a beautiful ad produced by Wieden + Kennedy.

Santa’s Privilege Check
Santa Claus sits on a snowy rooftop and questions traditional notions of kids who are “naughty”. “I think I did this all wrong,” He begins. “It started with good intentions. A way to motivate behavior, to codify gift-giving, streamline deliveries. But—naughty or nice? As if some kids don’t have enough to worry about, only to have me judge them without context, without perspective.”

St. Nick mulls the problem in a quietly intense soliloquy. He touches on issues facing young people today—”the news, the lockdown drills, the internet”—and concludes that a label like “naughty” is just too simplistic. ”

“Did I condemn every kid who already felt like a misfit toy?”

“Naughty or nice? Isn’t it just as possible that they’re nervous or nice? Uncomfortable-in-their-own-skin or nice? I’m-angry-and-I-don’t-know-why or nice? My-impulses-are-beyond-my-control or nice? Hurting or nice? The world is bearing down on them, and we expect these struggling kids to do—what? Speak when spoken to? What if it’s, interesting or nice?”

The reveal comes at the end:

Show me an interesting, fully formed person, and I’ll show you a once-‘difficult’ child. It’s only taken me a thousand years, but I think I finally see it. These kids, they’re not ‘naughty’ or ‘nice.’ They’re kids.” 

And so, Santa delivers his gift—a reminder that parents and caregivers should treat youngsters with patience and kindness, especially during this stressful time of year. Given that 50 percent of mental health conditions begin by age 14, and that in some states death by suicide has become the leading cause of death of young people 10-24.

And a hit-tip to W+K for doing work that matters. This goes back to the need I’ve featured to make social conscience more than a side hustle, and that the most important work we can do will nearly never arrive neatly wrapped and requested in an RFP. (for more of this theme, see my design ethics post.)

If you’ve had enough of 2019’s culture wars and think its time to heal, perhaps a gift to the people at NAMI is the equivalent of investing in infrastructure. How could there not be a heard benefit from increased mental health?

Happy almost Christmas.


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