The Agency A List: Sid Lee

Creating work that is shaping culture, one flag at a time

In Canada, men who have sex with men are banned from donating blood. Sid Lee showed Canadians that “Gay is Not a Blood Type” through an animated musical number starring campaign spokesperson, Gary the Gay Blood Cell, and invited surrogate donors to push for change.

When Toronto Raptors fans, and Torontonians in general, first saw the anthemic and uncharacteristically patriotic “We The North” campaign, the response was immediate and  electric. The work, designed to promote the Toronto NBA franchise, served as a flashpoint, uniting not just fans but the entire city around the cause of being different and damn proud of it.  

At the time, Sid Lee Toronto wanted to create something for the Raps that would resonate with fans. Instead, they inserted the team – and themselves – deeply within the cultural fabric of Canada.  

The campaign is reflective of the agency’s desire to shape culture and it was a turning point for the 100-person Sid Lee Toronto team from a new business perspective both across the country and south    of the border. It also helped change the perception of the nine-year- old agency from being a small collective of artists and an offshoot    of 25-year-old Sid Lee Montreal to a being viewed as in-demand creative problem solvers.  

“After that campaign, every client came and said ‘we want our We The North’,” says co-managing partner Tom Koukodimos. “It’s great that they had that ambition but every business has its unique business problem. It was a pivotal moment to understand the power in our process.”  

Of course, creating excitement around sport is one thing; creating that kind of awareness around more sensitive topics, such as inequality, is something else. But that’s the kind of work that Sid Lee has been behind in the years since “We The North.”    

That ethos can be seen in “Bulletproof Flag,” a flag handmade of Kevlar – the material used in bulletproof vests – for Black Lives Matter Canada, which is the unification of 20 different BLM chapters. The idea was to create a symbol that would represent this newly formed group in a big, bold way in order to spark conversation, empower the community and make a strong statement in marches and demonstrations across the country. It was named strategy’s Design Campaign of the Year.  

“Our biggest problem (and opportunity) was to create something that wasn’t fleeting or just another headline. It had to be respectful of the cause, contribute to it in a meaningful way and be something that would endure far beyond the trending topic of the day,” says Jared Stein, EVP Growth & Innovation, Partner. “Our goal was to create something tangible and impactful. Protest, after all, is a tool to effect change at a grand scale.”  

To symbolize the unification of Black Lives Matter groups across Canada, the agency created a flag made entirely of Kevlar. The flag was exhibited as part of a 10-city, cross-country tour and was a central element to gallery events showcasing new works by local black artists.

For Egale Canada, the country’s leading advocate for LGBT+ issues, Sid Lee brought a humourous tone to a serious issue. To address the fact that men who have sex with men are banned from donating blood, despite a desperate need of donations, the agency was tasked with raising awareness and beginning a dialogue that could end the restrictions once and for all.  

The result was an animated musical starring campaign spokesperson, Gary the Gay Blood Cell, which illustrated to Canadians that gay is not a blood type. The campaign includes the ability for supporters to pledge to be a blood surrogate and donate blood on behalf of those who can’t.  

Jeffrey Da Silva, Sid Lee executive creative director and partner, says the agency recently developed a framework to create work that is inspiring, resonant and adds real value to clients’ business.  It’s called the Creative Credo and asks four questions: is the work in context, does it shape culture, is there an art factor, and does it break rules?  

This credo sparked the agency to create an alarm clock song to help people greet the day for Starbucks as part of its “MorningYes” campaign. “We worked with a sound designer and scientist to figure out the most beautiful sounds to wake up to,” says Da Silva. “The alarm was born of the insight that Starbucks is already involved in people’s mornings, but how else can we make mornings better.”

The Canadian Olympic Committee’s “Be Olympic” campaign, featuring athletes’ stories of perseverance, demonstrates that Olympic values are Canadian values and glorifies Olympians as the champions of virtue. The campaign resulted in the highest number of page views ever recorded during the games, with 17 million views, surpassing its engagement goal by 200%.

As Eve Rémillard-Larose, co-managing partner adds, “It’s important to go beyond what the brands say, it’s how the brand behaves as well, because if it connects with people, we know that business results will follow.”


Jared Stein

EVP Growth & Innovation, Partner