CASSIES Bronze: Credit Counselling Society personifies debt

The non-profit made debt personal by showing how it feels to carry it around.

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

Bronze: Off to a Good Start & Best Insight

Situation Analysis:

The Credit Counselling Society (CCS) is a non-profit, charitable service that helps people deal with overwhelming debt struggles to become debt free. Credit counselling has two unorthodox marketing challenges: consumer awareness is virtually non-existent until the service is needed, and then is usually only a one-time encounter – repeat business means the service failed. For 2014, the objective was to increase first-time appointments by 25%.

Insight & Strategy:

Being in debt is an overwhelming and isolating feeling. It takes over every aspect of life, yet few will talk about it on a personal level. Prior advertising in the category (including by CCS) was quite rational and direct, sometimes a spokesperson outlined how help was available, other ads showed the evidence of debt – past due notices, repossession – to try and scare people into action. Many people dealing with debt issues had become immune to these advertising messages, being masters at avoiding the signs and symptoms of their debt. What had been lacking was an emotional connection to debt – how being in debt made them feel.


Launched on January 27, 2014 with a budget between $1 and $2 million covering Ontario to British Columbia, “Debtman” used humour to show how debt affected people’s lives by always being on their backs. Running on television, OOH, and radio, “Debtman” illustrated the misery of carrying around debt, and how lonely it can be.


Between February 1, 2014 and January 31, 2015, CCS recorded significant increases in     phone calls (+21%), appointments booked (+22%), website traffic (+33%) and first time appointments counselled (+ 34.9%)

Cause & Effect:

When the campaign launched in February, calls increased by 49.9% followed by an increase of 40.5% in March. In the year prior to the launch of the campaign, counselled appointments only increased by 10%. Over the course of the campaign, general awareness for CCS increased by 73%. The advertising budget increased from $1.5 million to $1.8 million year-over-year and the coverage area of its service did not change. There were no increases in interest rates affecting a consumer’s ability to pay their debt during the period of the campaign.


Client: Credit Counselling Society

President and CEO: Scott Hannah

Director of marketing: Brad Sherwin

Agency: Greystone Creative

CD: Graham Livingstone

Producer and director: Allen Jones, Ace Productions

Media director: Jeanette Wassung, JW Media