Jacky P.A. Tran
Last month the main architects behind the SickKids VS. campaign paid a visit to IABC London to talk about their experiences with the provocative campaign.
Lori Davison, the Vice-President of Brand Strategy and Communications at SickKids teamed up with Peter Ignazi of Cossette, their agency partner to take something great, and somehow make it better.
Davison started her presentation by mentioning that their previous campaigns “Better Tomorrow” and “Unpause” had been very well-received. Not only was SickKids voted by Strategy Magazine to be a top five brand in Canada, but they also saw an improvement in brand equity and donations in 2014 and 2015.
So, if things were going well, why change?
“The easiest thing to do when it comes to charitable giving is nothing… We need to overcome people’s natural propensity to not take action,” said Davison.
Peter Ignazi of Cossette recognized that they couldn’t keep doing the same things from previous campaigns, as it would have led to the same conversations with the same people who would have continued to give the same donations.
The first step into changing these conversations did not start with the creative tactics, but rather a few questions around strategy.
What if they could change the conversation around SickKids? What if people’s perception of them could change from a charitable brand into a performance brand, like Nike or Under Armour?
That required a shift from protecting to winning. So, the message needed to change from a call for help into a call to join SickKids’ fight and their belief in overcoming illness.
“Redefine how the category talks and what the conversation is about the category. That’s how you lead… not by doing better work than [your competitors]… but by completely redefining what that category is and how it talks.” said Ignazi.
The resulting VS. campaign has done what it set out to do. It generated a new type of conversation around SickKids, attracted new audiences and motivated people who were complacent before to take action by joining the fight.
Their two-minute launch video was picked up in 17 different countries, trending, at the time, on Twitter and YouTube and generating, so far, approximately 57-million impressions.
However, as many of us are aware by now, the campaign was not without its critics.
The notion of creating an environment with winners and losers was criticized, since some children can’t be expected to win their battles.
Though both Davison and Ignazi said they expected some controversy due to the campaign’s provocative approach, they weren’t necessarily prepared for this type of backlash.
During the brief moment of controversy, Davison added that her team chose to not weigh-in on the conversation. Instead, they took a step back and watched the community moderate itself, until things eventually swayed back to a positive note.
However, Davison shared that, when crafting the VS. campaign, her team consulted with many internal and external stakeholders.
From talking to patients and their families to hospital staff and donors, they were confident that they had garnered enough support to follow through with the campaign.
“It’s with this confidence that the team behind the VS. campaign was able to be bold and to become leaders in the work that they do,” said Davison.
In response to the negative pushback to the campaign, Ignazi said some of it came from just one point-of-view of kids “winning.”
He added, “This was not a one-tone, one-dimensional campaign. This story could be told in many different emotional ways. And stories that are not always just positive.”
Nevertheless, for every negative comment, there were 10,000 positive ones.
As the campaign continued, people started to see that the campaign wasn’t about Bobby versus cancer, but about SickKids versus Bobby’s cancer.
During the presentation, one audience member asked what smaller local organizations could do to have similar results without a big budget or an agency to partner with.
Davison shared that, from her experience, it wasn’t always monetary incentives that attracted agency partners, but it was more about giving them a project to be excited about.
“You need to let the creative [team] do what they do. You need to sit back and be brave and let them do their thing, if you want these results,” said Davison.
Although she mentioned they are still waiting for more data before they can fully evaluate the campaign’s impact, the SickKids VS. campaign has undoubtedly inspired one of the most exciting conversations in recent memory.