“VS” is not the first successful collaboration between SickKids Foundation (just named Clio Health Advertiser of the Year) and Cossette Toronto. It’s not even their first award-winning campaign together.
Back in 2014, “Better Tomorrows” featured 42 real SickKids patients in thirty-second TV spots. One year later, SickKids and Cossette Toronto followed up on those patients with “UnPause”—in which viewers could unpause the story of each patient featured in “Better Tomorrows,” but only after donating.
Both campaigns were considered effective by all measures. “[‘Better Tomorrows’ and ‘Unpause’] did what they were supposed to do,” says Lori Davison, SickKids Vice President of Brand Strategy & Communications. Those campaigns, she says, “were successful, they increased donations, but they were just telling people what they already knew.”
Davison points out that building empathy is not new or groundbreaking, especially in terms of advertising for a charity or talking about childhood illness.
“VS” is SickKids’ first attempt to challenge that narrative. The campaign was different from the beginning, by virtue of the incredible goal to raise 1.3 billion dollars by 2022. And to support that goal, Davison says they had to engage a new demographic, particularly one that was younger and more male than their typical donor base. These new goals called for a shift “from talking like a charity brand to a performance brand,” Davison says.
If you watch the “VS” videos, you can immediately identify that shift. From punchy pacing to rugged imagery, this campaign tells a different story from that of the typical childhood illness narrative. “VS” does not dwell on defeat. It highlights warriors in the form of doctors, patients, and parents. Those doctors, patients, and parents in the “VS” videos are all played by real people, not actors. Their raw vigor and emotion simply could not be matched by someone unfamiliar with the daily realities of life in a children’s hospital.
But the choice to portray SickKids’ important work as a battle did draw some criticism at first. Not from those closely involved—Davison says her team “did a real road show to engage stakeholders, so [they] had a real army of support” during the creation process. Rather, Davison explains, upon the launch of the very first video, some viewers reacted negatively to connecting cancer and other illnesses with any kind of battle imagery, “because if you don’t get better, that carries the assumption that you’ve somehow lost.”
Yet with each subsequent release of other videos in the campaign, viewers gained a fuller understanding of the intended message, and soon any negative attention subsided. “They realized, this isn’t about Suzy versus Cancer,” Davison says. “This is about SickKids versus Suzy’s Cancer.”
The SickKids Foundation has successfully established a fresh new platform and voice for championing their cause—earning themselves a Grand Clio and the coveted Advertiser of the Year award in the process. They raised $57.9 million from October to December 2016 alone, and no doubt will continue to break barriers as they build on the “VS” campaign. To see their latest video, “SickKids VS: All In,” as well as the other “VS” videos, visit their channel on YouTube here.