When Jimmy Nguyen, a senior theater student at Doane University, filled out a mental health survey from a friend, he had no idea that his mental health story would be shared with people across the nation.
Especially for the company that made his backpack growing up.
Nguyen was approached by a friend with a connection to an agency, Ruby Pseudo, that was looking for people to share their mental health stories for a commercial.
Nguyen filled out the survey, interviewed, filled out questionnaires and sent in videos of him sharing his mental health journey and how his identity of being an Asian man has affected his mental health.
Nguyen was chosen to be one of five young adults from across the nation to be featured in a one-minute commercial.
Only then did he realize the commercial was for JanSport.
“It took me a little bit, but then I realized I had their backpack when I was a kid,” Nguyen said. “I never would have guessed that the backpack I owned as a kid would be who I would be a spokesperson for.”
This commercial was for JanSport’s #LightenTheLoad campaign. The mission of this campaign is to raise awareness about the mental health campaign and provide resources for those in need.
“This [commercial] came before COVID happened,” Nguyen said. “It’s a very fitting time to focus on mental health now.”
JanSport hired a company called Scholar to produce the commercial. Typically, those featured in the commercial would fly out to their studio to film, but since the COVID-19 pandemic changed that practice, a studio was sent to him.
Scholar shipped Nguyen a camera, microphone, studio lights and a large backdrop – everything he would need to film the commercial.
The production company held a “tech day” via Zoom to teach Nguyen how to set up the studio in his parents' basement. They helped map out the room he would be filming in and told him where to place everything so all the shots would look professional and cohesive.
“How can commercial grade-quality or brands do this in quarantine?” Nguyen said. “JanSport managed to do it.”
Nguyen spent four hours on “shoot day” filming content to potentially be used in the commercial. Through Zoom, he was asked questions about his mental health journey. The prompts for what to ask came from his previous interviews and questionnaires. His responses were unscripted as he spoke his story to the camera.
This experience was different than what he had been doing in Doane Theater.
“I never thought I would be in a commercial and that this would be the time for me to be in one if I was,” Nguyen said. “This isn’t acting. This is just me.”
Nguyen planned to graduate in May after three years at Doane.
He will return to Doane this fall and plans to continue his theater career in New York City after completing his fourth year in college.
“[Planning on] graduating in three years, I’ve always been a person that goes 100 miles per hour towards my goal, but now there’s no way I can do that. I can’t get to where I want to because the world is not letting me,” he said. “I’m here and I am going to make the best out of it.”
Nguyen said this year, he is going to focus on his skills while participating in Doane Theater. He plans to slow down while also taking a pause for his mental health.
“I think this JanSport commercial helped, too, with accepting myself, finding validation in myself and just coming to terms with my mental health,” Nguyen said.