Dr. Clown Foundation gets in on the challenge fun

The Funny Face-off uses technology to get Montrealers laughing (and donating) to a good cause.

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Charities often try to pull at your heartstrings or tear ducts, but Montreal’s Dr. Clown Foundation is aiming to stand out from the crowed by hitting your funny bone. And it’s using technology to get you to smile, raise awareness and ultimately get Montrealers to donate to a good cause.

The foundation was started in 2002 and sends therapeutic clowns into health-care facilities to cheer up children who are hospitalized, and also sends clowns to cheer up seniors living in long-term care residences.

In preparation for a new campaign, staff at agency Cossette shadowed the clowns to get ideas about how to drum up interest in the foundation, explains creative director Richard Rochette-Villeneuve. When agency staff saw the smiles the therapy clowns were bringing to kids, the agency knew the emphasis would be on smiles, not tears. From the start, Cossette also wanted the campaign to be “very 2019, very mobile-first,” he adds.

“The main visual is the clown nose. As soon as the clowns put the nose on, that’s when the magic operates,” says Rochette-Villeneuve.

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To help bring “The Funny Face-off” to life – and engage a wider audience to drive donations – Cossette teamed up with experiential agency TimeCode Lab. When people visit the website, facial recognition software tracks whether a user smiles (if a device doesn’t have a camera or a user has blocked access to it, TimeCode built a plan B, where a video of adorable babies and kids laughing would play anyways and a donation button would still appear). People can also text donations and Telus (a client of Cossette’s through dedicated agency The Greenhouse) has pledged to donate $1 for those who share the site via social media.

The foundation also got in-kind media donated and several high-profile Quebec influencers and comedians to promote the campaign.  

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The “Face-off” kicked off in late May in the Montreal area and also includes some wild postings, banners and billboards, all prominently displaying the foundation’s signature red nose in both English and French.

While Rochette-Villeneuve acknowledges the agency was partly inspired by the ALS “Ice Bucket Challenge,” which went viral back in the summer of 2014 he says the foundation’s twist on an internet-based challenge is different as there’s a direct line between the challenge and the goal of the therapy clowns (laughter). Whereas the ALS challenge seemed to be as much about showing off on social media as helping a specific cause, Rochette-Villeneuve says the foundation’s challenge is directly about smiling for a specific purpose (to bring smiles to kids in hospital).

The choice to make people laugh, not cry, has paid off. So far, the campaign videos have gotten 860,744 accumulated views, as well as 22,604,083 impressions.