Cannes Lions

Substitute Dealers


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Case Film






Fentanyl is the most dangerous drug in the US, killing kids every day. 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine, the equivalent of 2 grains of sand can be lethal. It’s being hidden in fake pills and other drugs.

Authority figures are either unaware of the crisis or squeamish to talk about it, often reverting to “Don’t Do Drugs,” which does not work. Our audience of young adults (13-24) is a generation that actively seeks out information to make their own informed decisions, and looks to peers in social media and at school to give that information to them. We needed to go where the teens were, and be straight with them.


Real talk. Fentanyl is killing kids. But no one was really talking to them about it, or knew how. Until now. We tapped the most unexpected, yet most qualified sources — the people who have dealt drugs, asking them to create a curriculum that teaches from an insider’s view of the drug trade. They built lesson plans to educate students about the drug through the lens of their everyday school subjects: Health, Chemistry, and Economics. Then we brought them into the classroom to teach it. Taking over Holyoke High School in Massachusetts for the day, former drug dealers stepped in as teachers–or “Substitute Dealers.” After the pilot event, lessons were edited into social-first content custom-tailored for the digital spaces our audience occupies. Lastly, this robust curriculum was designed open source, and made available for download on for other educators to teach nationwide.


Our goal was clear: Arm young people with the information they need to save their own lives. However, with a target of skeptical kids and young adults (13-24 years old), this would be easier said than done. Having grown up in an era of lost trust (fake news, #MeToo, police brutality, data leaks/breaches, etc.), we couldn’t afford to be seen as authority figures. Instead, we had to speak to them in their own language to educate them about the rising prevalence and danger of these fake drugs, and make them part of the solution. With this knowledge, we set out on a quest to pull the curtain back on the modern drug game, expose it for the dangerous sham it is, and empower kids to do something about it. And we would have to do it all on their turf.


In addition to the live pilot program event at a Massachusetts High School, the work was strategically placed in media that was acutely relevant to where and how young adults consume information. We intentionally crafted and produced this campaign as a national, social-first approach. Each asset was formatted to live on several different social media platforms including Snap, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, Reddit, Twitch, etc. Additionally, we tapped TikTok influencers well-known for their involvement in drug awareness to spread the word. Overall, we ensured that each asset big or small we put in the world included one actionable piece of information that could potentially save lives. The work was also featured in broadcast and OTT, nationally.


The campaign got people talking and learning. Traffic to our site beat benchmarks by 340 percent with 1.057M users visiting to learn about the dangers of fentanyl and how to take action. We received key support from NFL Network, Revolt TV, and MLB Network. We saw pick-up across all media types including Snap, Twitter, Reddit, and Twitch. Overall, the campaign was overwhelmingly well-received with 85% positive sentiment, outperforming Influential’s benchmark by +4 percentage points. Coverage for the campaign was seen in outlets from RollingStone to the New York Times, from teen social to educational newsletters.

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