CASSIES Silver: A sweater to change the way we speak

A charity does some knitting to combat derogatory usage.

This story appears in the February/March 2016 issue of strategy.

Silver: Events, Seasonal and Short-Term

Situation Analysis:

The Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity (CCGSD) is a registered Canadian charity that works to end bullying and discrimination against gay youth, particularly in schools. But changing long-held prejudices and behaviour is no easy task especially with no budget for a campaign in a crowded and well-funded Canadian charity/cause landscape.

Insight & Strategy:

Perceptions of LGBT people among those who are straight vary to a dramatic degree, from ambivalence to outright homophobia. But one behaviour they have in common is how straight people misuse the word “gay.” Many straight people use “gay” in the negative as a habit – “That’s so gay” has become common language. But the misuse of “gay” is so widespread it could be turned to its advantage: by showing how silly calling things “gay” is, people could be persuaded to use “gay” the right way if presented with the world’s first and only object that would be okay to call gay, because it was made from the DNA of gay people.


The Gay Sweater, knitted from hair donated by gay people, was launched to a primarily Canadian target market in March 2015, during World Mastercard Fashion Week in Toronto, via experiential, PR and online channels. A series of documentary films featuring the creation of the Gay Sweater and its purpose were hosted on YouTube, and housed on a dedicated microsite. PR targeted traditional news media channels while social media amplified the launch via Twitter and Facebook. In addition, the Gay Sweater appeared at schools and Pride events nationwide. The microsite included downloadable education packages that would allow teachers to educate about diversity and acceptance for students of all ages.


The Gay Sweater received news and media coverage worldwide, with CCGSD founder Jeremy Dias proclaiming, “I got more interviews in three days than in the past 10 years.” The campaign generated over $1.1 million in earned media (over five times the goal) and generated over 165 million impressions in the first week (over six times the goal). The mainstream media mentions achieved a quality score of 94% (vs. a goal of 75%).  In social media, #TheGaySweater generated nearly 16 million impressions on Twitter and over six million impressions on Facebook. The Gay Sweater videos received over 110,000 organic (non-paid) views (10% over the goal).

Cause & Effect:

All of the above results were generated after the Gay Sweater campaign was launched, and within days of implementation. This was the first major, national communications initiative launched by CCGSD, so none of its achievements have been the result of a carryover effect from previous campaigns.


Client: The Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity

Founder and director: Jeremy Dias

Agency: Saatchi & Saatchi Canada

ECD: Brian Sheppard

Group CD, CW: Matt Antonello

Group CD, AD: Joel Arbez

CW: Shauna Roe

AD: Rachel Kennedy

Head of production: Michelle Orlando

Producer: Rebecca Adams

Director: Reynard Li

Photography: Rob Butterwick, Philip Rostron (Instil), Vicky Lam (Westside)

Editors: Chris Murphy (Relish), Dylan O’Donnel, Ryan Denmark

Music: Dustin Anstey (RMW)

Post Production: 567

Colour: Smith

Development: TPM Communications

PR (Canada): Republic

PR (US and UK): Golin