What would the world look like without the YMCA?

A campaign from the organization's Toronto chapter aims to show what it offers beyond fitness and community centres.

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A dichotomy of emotions and scenarios play out in YMCA of Greater Toronto’s latest video, “A World Without Y,” as the organization looks to highlight what it offers communities beyond sports and fitness.

In one continuous take, the video first shows a gleeful, newly-arrived Canadian family awaiting the return of their daughter from a YMCA summer camp. Then, the video takes a much darker turn: darker lighting, darker emotions and a darker scenario of a missing child – the daughter not returning home. The actors carried out the same dialogue and movements, just with different tones and emotion in each scenario. The two scenarios were looking to depict a world with the YMCA and its programs, and a world without it.

The spot’s creative director, Jonathan Guy, highlighted to strategy what YMCA’s main goals were for such a campaign. “I think their main goal (always) was to raise awareness and raise funds,” he says. “In terms of messaging and the takeaway for viewers, I think they wanted to change how the YMCA is perceived.”

Guy added how, for years, the YMCA has generally been viewed as a “local gym” or a “community centre.” But Guy noted it also supports newcomer families and LGBTQ people through things like language services for immigrants and YMCA Sprott House, a traditional housing program.

“It’s more than just a local hangout for youth,” he says. “The issues they [YMCA] deal with are a lot more serious than just keeping youth from being bored and getting into mischief. I think that’s the tone and [where] the inspiration came for this spot.”

“A World Without Y” was led by Guy and director Edward Andrews of the Toronto-based production company Skin & Bones. Andrews and Guy were assigned to create a concept that demonstrated how the YMCA “helps solve social problems in communities” by delivering support for “everyone, regardless of status or income,” as described in a recent press release about the ad.

The main concept focused on what communities would look like if the YMCA never existed, the release noted.

Guy said in the release that, by conveying the story through the eyes of an immigrant family, they were able to depict the significant impact (or lack thereof) support programs and systems have on a community in rapidly-growing cities like Toronto.

Guy notes how he highlighted the multifaceted aspects of the YMCA through “a bunch of little details” in the video (like the missing YMCA calendar, with no YMCA program, and the absent neighbour’s parent in the second half) which serve to “educate people moving forward,” at YMCA events and fundraisers, he says.

“I think the fact that it’s hard-hitting,” he says, as to why it’s an effective piece of marketing. “Very kind of real and visceral…that was by design.”

“A World Without Y” will be airing in cinemas across the GTA starting Jan. 10.