ParticipACTION gets quirky

Goodbye, Hal and Joanne. Hello, quirky foreign gym teacher.

Goodbye, Hal and Joanne. Hello, quirky foreign gym teacher.

Toronto-based ParticipACTION is back after a five-year hiatus with a new campaign, ‘Old Before Their Time,’ which features children complaining about health problems and behaving like fragile senior citizens. It’s running in English and French, and includes four TV spots and banner ads. The new effort is replacing Hal and Joanne, who have been continuing ‘Body Break’ without ParticipACTION.

The campaign includes three recently unleashed viral spots that aim to create buzz about the ‘inactivity crisis’ facing Canadian children. The ‘How to Play’ clips feature a Dodgeball-esque gym teacher with an unidentifiable European accent demonstrating how to play games like hide-and-seek and tag.

‘It’s a new day, it’s a new generation – we wanted to do something a bit more

hard-hitting than Hal and Joanne showing you how to do jumping jacks,’ says Don Saynor, creative group head at JWT Toronto. ‘[The virals] are in keeping with the kitschy ’70s nature of a how-to campaign.’

The broader campaign’s primary target is parents, while the viral targets families in general. The main objective is to spark conversations among families about maintaining healthy, active lifestyles.

We asked two youth-savvy panelists, Carmen Schwalm, marketing manager at Mississauga-based Fox Home Entertainment Canada, and John Findlay, founding partner at Ottawa-based interactive shop Launchfire, whether this campaign raises their heart rates.


Schwalm: ‘Old Before Their Time’ convinced me there was a problem. ‘How to Play’ was tongue-in-cheek, and a simple solution to the problem. I would have liked to see a closer connection between the two…Problem. Solution. Got it.

Findlay: I don’t believe people can be driven to maintain a physically active lifestyle by the fear of premature health problems. Although it may strike a chord initially, the effect will eventually wane. Ultimately, there needs to be an immediate and concrete payback. I think I would have leaned more towards emphasizing the positive effects of maintaining a physically active lifestyle, as they are more tangible and immediate.


Schwalm: Build it…will they come? Viral has become such a buzzword that I think people feel that they need to have a viral component in their campaign or else. Not enough time is being spent defining what makes their viral compelling or figuring out whether it truly makes sense for the brand and their demo. The spots are mildly amusing, but would I forward them? No.

Findlay: In my experience, successful viral programs have to be edgy, funny or very entertaining. Although these spots did convey the campaign messaging, they rely on humour to drive pass-along. I didn’t find the spots funny, so I think their viral effectiveness will be limited.


Schwalm: Direct, honest, and compelling.

They are hard-hitting and would be tough to ignore as a parent. The one thing I would have liked to see is the ‘so what?’ or ‘here’s what you can do about it’ [element], which could simply be a message driving people to the web for information.

Findlay: Although the TV concept is effective for conveying the key message (inactive kids may get old before their time), I just didn’t find them funny or memorable. I also thought that there should have been a stronger call to action. The website provides loads of information to help people become more physically active, but the ads did little to drive me to the site. It’s not enough to just mention the URL.


Schwalm: I like the consistency between the TV spots and banner ads. It is reinforcing a message that parents have potentially seen elsewhere. My only concern is that the creative requires the user to stay engaged solely on the banner the whole time to get the message. I don’t think that is realistic in today’s online environment.

Findlay: The banners do a good job of conveying the campaign’s key messaging. However, they had no call to action. In order to drive traffic to a website, you need to offer value to your audience.

The creds

ParticipACTION: Marianne Bernardo, VP marketing; Kelly Murumets, president & CEO; Elio Antunes, COO & VP partnerships

JWT Toronto: Don Saynor, creative group head; Jeff Wilbee, AD; Rick Brown, digital CD; Martin Shewchuk, EVP/ECD; Clair Galea, broadcast producer; Shelby Spigelman, account executive; Michelle Milos, director, business development; Monique Zarry, account director; David Gibb, EVP/ MD