SickKids calls on cultural ‘crews’ in latest ‘VS’ effort

The hospital enlists actor Colm Feore and local influencers to speak to groups ranging from the "Road Runners" to the "Fashionistas."

Some time after being cast for the latest SickKids ad, renowned actor Colm Feore told a story of having been pulled over while driving on Toronto’s University Avenue. As the officer was letting him go, Feore recalled, he offered a few unexpected words of advice: “Do something for SickKids.”

Years later, having accepted a part in the hospital’s new “Join Your Crew” campaign, the actor has said he thinks “he’s done good on that,” says Lori Davison, SickKids Foundation VP of brand strategy and communications.

The new spot, which launched Oct. 1, is the latest to come out of SickKids’ award-winning “VS” platform and features Feore calling on people in the GTA and beyond to find their “crews” – the “Cyclists,” the “Dog People,” the “Lefties,” the “Road Runners,” the “Cosplayers,” the “Boxers,” the “Fashionistas” – and join on its mission to raise the $1.3 billion needed to build a new hospital.

According to Davison, the spot was inspired by a battle scene in Shakespeare’s Henry V, in which actor Kenneth Branagh delivers a rousing call-to-arms to the troops, making Feore, who has the “presence and gravitas that you could describe as Shakespearean,” the perfect champion for the campaign’s most recent phase.

In this sense, Feore came to be part of the campaign in a different way than Ryan Reynolds, who was featured in last year’s “Join Us” spot after offering to help support the launch of SickKids’ fundraising initiative. Both actors, highly popular among large swathes of the Canadian population, have helped deliver a lot of earned media for brand.

The overall creative concept for “Join Your Crew,” which was led by Cossette, is based on identifying different cultural “tribes” (some of which are admittedly very niche) and inviting them to band together to “get this done,” says Davison.

The direction is different from the platform’s two previous phases in that it puts all the focus on the donors. Phase one looked to draw attention to SickKids and its staff and patients and was followed by a second phase dedicated to declaring the need for a new building. In the platform’s third act, Davison says the donor is made into the protagonist, because “that is who is going to get us across the finish line.”

In addition to the main spot, a robust influencer effort led by Citizen Relations is expected to be an “important engine” for the campaign, she says, because it fits nicely to a campaign based on speaking to donors based on their individual passion points.

The hospital has worked with a number of high-profile Toronto personalities, including Canadian Olympic sprinter Andre DeGrasse, Toronto Raptor Fred VanVleet, Canadian actress Torri Webster and lifestyle influencer Allegra Shaw, creating more than 20 supporting 15-second spots. In each of the videos, the influencer is cast as a “crew leader,” with the goal of creating deeper resonance with their individual followings.

The full two-minute spot will air in cinema and online, with 60- and 90-second cuts running on TV. In addition, a media buy overseen by OMD includes OOH through the city of Toronto, as well as digital and social ads.

The spot first aired on ET Canada, not as a paid placement but during the program, because host Cheryl Hickey is herself one of the campaign’s influencers, leading the “Fashionistas” crew.