Bell Canada is overhauling its charitable initiative that supports mental health, replacing a program that saw the company donate five cents every time Canadians used the phrase "Bell Lets Talk" with a lump-sum donation of $10 million.
Since its founding in 2010, the Bell Let's Talk initiative has seen the telecom giant donate five cents every time Canadians used the BellLetsTalk hashtag on social media or in a text.
Over the past 13 years, it has raised more than $129 million for more than 1,400 mental health-related organizations across Canada, helping more than five million Canadians in the process, Bell says.
Last year, the phrase was used more than 165 million times online on Let's Talk Day, raising more than $8.2 million.
But this year, the company is changing the campaign, replacing the pledge to donate based on the use of the phrase with a promise to donate $10 million instead, regardless of whether anybody texts, tweets or otherwise uses the phrase on Jan. 25.
Bell noted in a press release that $10 million is more than the company has donated in any single year since the initiative began, and it added that changing the program "will shift more emphasis on the day toward practical actions that we can all take throughout the year to create change."
"We will put the focus on community organizations that are helping to drive this change and moving mental health support forward," CEO Mirko Bibic said.
While the campaign was a marketing win for Bell initially, in recent years the popularity of the hashtag has drawn some unwanted scrutiny to the company.
In 2021, the company laid off staff at radio stations across Canada within weeks of Let's Talk Day.
Then last year, it faced public image issues as a number of employees with the company's media division came forward with complaints about the work culture.
Former CP24 weather specialist Patricia Jaggernauth launched a complaint with Ontario's Human Rights Commission alleging systemic discrimination.
Danielle Graham, a former host of entertainment news program eTalk, is suing the company for wrongful dismissal after being let go without warning after a 15-year career.
And last fall, the ouster of CTV National News chief anchor Lisa LaFlamme was met with a firestorm of controversy, prompting an investigation into workplace culture at the Bell-owned broadcaster and leading to the head of CTV News, Michael Melling, being reassigned.
Daniel Tsai, a lecturer on law, technology and culture at the University of Toronto and Toronto Metropolitan University, said the move is clearly aimed at reclaiming the initiative away from some of the criticisms that have overtaken the campaign in recent years.
"It has been highly criticized, but at the same time it does bring attention to a really important medical issue," he said in an interview. "That is definitely a reason to switch ... to a one-time donation to avoid negative press about how the program is a PR stunt as opposed to a solution."