Monday, February 19, 2018
Business

Helping students face debt

It's that dreadful, suffocating feeling you get when you know you have something difficult to face, but you don't want to admit it.

That feeling is the subject of The Red, the title of an edgy new short film — and a related marketing campaign — that its creators hope will persuade young people to take charge of their student debt before it becomes an insurmountable burden.

The campaign aims to call attention to a student loan education and financial management program called SALT, created by American Student Assistance, a nonprofit that helps students plan for and manage their debt, said Sue Burton, managing director of consumer products and marketing for SALT. Students, graduates and their families can get access to SALT's free advice and money management programs on the saltmoney.org Web site. (The program's name originates from the practice in ancient Rome of paying soldiers partly with salt, she said.)

The program's goal is to help the most borrowers possible navigate their student debt, she said. "The premise is borrow less, borrow smart and repay well," she said.

To get the message across to young people who would rather not think about their student loans, SALT retained the advertising and marketing firm SS+K. Bobby Hershfield, chief creative officer of SS+K, said young people often feel a sense of paralysis, when faced with debt and financial woes. So instead of dealing with the problem, they tend to avoid it — which just makes the problem worse.

The firm realized it had to go beyond a traditional public service announcement to get young people to pay attention, he said. So it selected Borderline Films, known for such dark fare as Martha Marcy May Marlene, to direct The Red, a short thriller suffused with creepiness. The film uses The Red as a metaphor for the feeling of being strangled by too much borrowing.

The film depicts a young woman whose life is increasingly constricted by debt, depicted as an amorphous red cloud that snakes around her neck as she tries to go about her daily life. She attempts, frantically, to seal off her room with duct tape, to no avail.

As a further incentive, SALT is offering a sweepstakes via Facebook that offers $10,000 to three winners, to help pay for educational costs or pay down student debt.

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