A challenging campaign for the Special Olympics

The sports organization celebrates its 50th birthday by highlighting the accomplishments of its athletes on and off the field.


Special Olympics athlete Alma Loken is featured in this print ad as part of  its “Challenge Accepted” campaign.

For its 50th anniversary, Special Olympics Canada has launched a new campaign showing the elite-level training its athletes go through and how that translates into skills for their everyday lives.

The organization worked with Grey’s Toronto office on the “Challenge Accepted” campaign, while m/Six helped with media and Hype PR led the national public relations push.

Grey spoke with people who were reluctant to join the organization and found people felt intimidated by the prospect, strongly linking the organization with elite athletes participating in the annual Special Olympics events, according to Ian Westworth, Grey Canada’s VP, planning & innovation. By talking to athletes and their families, the agency gleaned that most actually don’t participate in the annual national games, instead participating in local, year-round events. Westworth learned that for Special Olympics athletes “the win for them wasn’t success on the field of play. It was success off the field.” That led to the main campaign idea: “to everyone who thinks there are many things we cannot accomplish, we say: challenge accepted.”

Through chatting with Special Olympic  coaches, athletes and their families, Grey staff also learned that while the general public know of the physical benefits the sports organization provided, but less was understood about the emotional benefits, says James Ansley, ECD at Grey Toronto.

Those conversations with those with direct ties to the Special Olympics is “really what inspired this idea of challenge accepted is that athletes can take the lessons learned on the field of play and apply them to life,” Ansley says.

The resulting “Challenge Accepted” campaign features traditional TV, radio and print spots. But the team at Grey accepted the challenge to take the campaign further, working with Special Olympics partners and sponsors on social content. For example, Tim Hortons challenged a Special Olympics athlete to create a doughnut for the 50th birthday celebration.

Alberta athlete Savannah Lussier accepted that challenge, creating a honey cruller dipped in chocolate fondant and topped with red-and-white sprinkles.

The limited-edition doughnut was sold on July 21, the Global Day of Inclusion. The QSR then challenged Canadians to buy the special doughnut, take a photo and post it with the hashtags #ChooseToInclude and #ChallengeAcceptedSOC.

TSN also participated in events on Global Inclusion Day, with an athlete accepting the challenge of stepping in for Cabbie Richards and interviewing a Toronto Argonauts player. Meanwhile, another athlete joined Jay Onrait and Dan O’Toole on SC with Jay and Dan – Presented By Tim Hortons.

And Kia Canada, the official vehicle for the Special Olympics Canada 2018 Summer Games, committed to raising $150,000.

The “Challenge Accepted” campaign will continue for the entire 50th anniversary year, emphasizing that “really the power of the Special Olympics is the transformative power of sport that the lessons of sport learned on the field of play can be [applied to] real-life situations,” says Ansley.