Creatives’ insights: Why SickKids ‘VS’ meant letting go

Cossette's Carlos Moreno on how the shift in emotional tone was done successfully.


Following a record-breaking year for Canada in Cannes, strategy is diving into a few of this year’s award-winning campaigns, asking the top creatives behind the work to tell us more about the process and their learnings. Here, Cossette’s Carlos Moreno explains why letting experts be experts helped SickKids strike a new emotional tone. Be sure to read about Leo Burnett group creative director Anthony Chelvanathan’s take on how “Cook This Page” came to life – after a few deaths – and FCB Toronto’s co-CCOs’ story behind “Down Syndrome Answers”. Check back throughout this week for more.

Cossette’s co-chief creative officer Carlos Moreno describes the launch of SickKids “VS” at the hospital as an emotional experience.

The morning screening of the campaign’s anthem spot was followed by a brief moment of silence. Then, cheers erupted.

It was a major coup, especially given that the potentially risky idea had to be shared with the many stakeholders who have a vested interest in SickKids. By lunchtime that day, the team already received positive kudos across social media.

One of the standouts for Moreno was a photo of a young girl with a “VS” poster in the hallway of the hospital, on her knees and posing like one of the kids in the ad, showing off how strong she was.


“When I see things like that, I connect with it,” says Moreno – one of many parents who’s had his own personal connection with SickKids, where his son was treated. “It taps into this whole desire to fight whatever battle you’re fighting, but it’s also this desire to live that we all have.”

That connection sparked by “VS” came out of a strategy to begin treating SickKids as the big brand that it really is, not a charity, he says. “The strategy was a huge part of it because we knew we couldn’t do the same thing over and over.”

Cossette’s first work for SickKids, “Life Unpaused” was successful, building on the award-winning creative from the organization’s previous AOR J. Walter Thompson. But with lofty fundraising goals ($140 million for fiscal 2017, which it’s reached, plus another new goal to be stated this fall), it was time for a big change.

But with that, came executing an emotional tone that would encourage a new response from consumers when it comes to the idea of redefining what being sick is and connecting the hospital to their own battles. Moreno points to how Cossette’s chief strategy officer Jay Chaney often describes the strategy – one where SickKids is already winning and just needs help continuing to win.

The eventual idea for “VS” was one of four ideas pitched to SickKids after a team of Cossette strategists, creatives and account people (plus the client) locked themselves in a room for four days. After presenting all of the ideas, the decision to go with “VS” was unanimous.

It was a dramatic shift in tone for SickKids and one that could only be achieved by letting experts do their thing, Moreno says.

SickKids’ “VS” is all about fighting back but when it came to creating the campaign, it really boiled down to letting go. “Capturing an emotion is so hard to do,” Moreno says. “We all had to kind of work together and trust each other.”

He points to one the last shots of “Undeniable” – a composite of a boy with a tiger – as an example. That idea wasn’t even in the first edit but continual tweaking allowed for it to happen. “It just took it to a whole other level emotionally,” he says, crediting SickKids client Lori Davison with being open to letting that happen.

“Film is one of the most organic processes that you will ever go through because anything can happen at any point,” he says. From casting to music, every choice can have a major impact.

“We’re in an industry where people hire experts,” he says. “These people are all very, very good at what they do and we have to let them do what they do.”

Following its launch, SickKids is now able to take an approach that big consumer brands do, Moreno says.

“It’s allowing us to play tonally in different places, as big brands do,” he says. For example, after the “Undeniable” anthem spot, it’s gone more lighthearted with its Christmas milk and cookies spot and much more intense with its Mother’s Day “Momstrong” film.

“They’re all these emotions and feelings that are helping to tell a bigger story overall.”