2019 Strategy Awards: Next level cause-vertising

Non-profits and brands take their gloves off in campaigns that call out the uninformed, ignorant and disengaged.


This story originally appeared in the October 2019 issue of strategy.

This week, strategy is taking a deep dive into the insights and plans that led to success for the winners of the 2019 Strategy Awards. Find more in-depth looks at the successful plans here.

Many of us are uninformed and disengaged about the issue that exists in the Down syndrome community – their numbers are in decline, and it’s creating a ripple effect on the social and health services they need. Plastic in the oceans has reached a tipping point and our great grandchildren may never bear witness to the beauty that exists in the sea. Presidential campaigns carry thinly veiled symbols of discrimination and racism; while ignorant people continue to spew hate on social media, further perpetuating a cruel stigma around those with HIV.

Travesties like these deserve to be called out, which many creative agencies helped nonprofits (and a brand) do.

Greenpeace and Rethink created a campaign that’s uncomfortable to look at, much less reflect. While the plastic straw may be small, it’s causing significant harm to the planet. Sadly, the reality is that they’re in almost every restaurant and bar: in Canada alone, 57 million straws are discarded each day. Single-use plastic eventually ends up in our oceans, where they endanger and kill sea life. But despite consumer uproar (and single-use plastic ban announced for 2021), there’s currently no law prohibiting straws in Canada.

StrawShaming_Image_STA2019_82252Greenpeace wanted to change that and so created a groundswell by rattling the cage. “Stop Sucking” was intended to wake people up to the problem, and visuals of animals (a turtle, fish and seagull) with straws brutally inserted into their mouths did the job.

To take it a step further, the team created a series of “Straw Shaming” GIFs for Instagram. The stickers were designed to fit perfectly on the image of a straw, so people could tag the restaurant (where they were given the sipping device) for all of their followers to see. And it worked. The GIFs generated 2.3 million views and have since been used on a global scale.

Marine life and those with Down syndrome face similar existential threats, according to the Canadian Down Syndrome Society (CDSS) in an FCB-created campaign that put a group of people on an endangered list. An increase in prenatal screening has led the Down syndrome population to decline. But as the community shrinks, so too do the resources that support them, creating an “Endangered Syndrome” that needs attention.

Even though Down syndrome could qualify as “endangered,” wildlife organizations that protect animals tend to receive 100 times more funding than Down syndrome organizations in North America. So CDSS applied for the first group of people to be put on the official endangered species list. Naturally, this created a media frenzy. The press picked up the story, which included a video with real people with Down syndrome dressed as endangered animals and driving people to sign a petition online.

The campaign kick-started an avalanche of conversations around the silent issue. It also earned half a billion media impressions with only $2,000 invested in media, while 49,500 people signed the petition, and donations increased by 77%.

While CDSS called out a double standard, the Peace Collective called out Donald Trump for favouring one group (Americans) over another (everybody else).

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The Toronto apparel brand sells clothing that captures current cultural sentiments. It also has a history of helping those less fortunate, as well as new Canadians by donating to struggling communities. For the Collective, Zulu Alpha Kilo was inspired to reimagine the infamous “Make American Great Again” (MAGA) hat, which had become a symbol of hate. The agency’s idea was to “Unravel Hate” by replacing the MAGA words with “Welcome to Canada.”

The team unstitched the words on a MAGA hat, letter by letter, unraveling its divisive symbolism. It then used the red thread to weave a new message of acceptance onto a Canadian toque, showing the whole process in a video that featured five new Canadians as they were given the welcoming headgear.

#UnravelHate was Peace Collective’s most successful campaign in its history. With zero paid media, the campaign was shared 2.34 million times on social, while the video got 2.5 million video views.
Hate is an emotion that gets a lot of airtime on social media, and it’s usually bred by fear as a result of being minsinformed.

Casey House, Bensimon Byrne and Narrative decided to educate the ignorant, creating provocative videos that show people with HIV conducting skin-to-skin massage therapy at a “Healing House.”

The wellness spa in Toronto had 18 HIV+ volunteers perform neck, back and shoulder massages to hundreds of people, with the team documenting the event and sharing the video online. Knowing that it would spark outrage, a team of moderators were poised to respond to the social media backlash and correct people’s misconceptions around the spread of HIV (which is, of course, not contagious through touch).

Paid media targeted social media activity in areas where research showed the stigma was especially prevalent.

Research shows that 51% of North Americans won’t touch someone with HIV, and while many still share that opinion, the campaign managed to educate hundreds of thousands of Canadians and decrease negative sentiment by as much as 27% on platforms like Reddit. With a budget of just $30,000, “Healing House” amassed a media value of $11 million.


Orange is the new Unignorable

Sadly, 1 in 10 Canadians live in poverty and many are impacted by social issues. Yet few recognize the problems that exist in their own communities, so United Way created a campaign that drew attention to the local issues that often go ignored.

The non-profit and Taxi partnered with The Pantone Color Institute to create the world’s most “Unignorable” colour: a neon orange that calls attention to social issues, from homelessness to abuse and violence. The hue became the foundation for every execution.

Working with an illustrator, the team created minimalist designs, using only black, white and the “Unignorable” colour. The artwork was placed in contextual OOH and print ads, while an interactive art exhibit at Nuit Blanche in Toronto simulated the feelings of insecurity and isolation within those who suffer from ignored issues. The non-profit even partnered with Adidas to create “Unignorable” sneakers.

The program, which won a Silver in Cause, helped raise $110 million in donations – a record-breaking amount for the United Way in the GTA (and in the world).

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Dynamite ideas in small packages

Who knew a box of tampons could change lives? Shoppers Drug Mart and Interval House designed discreet protection for disenfranchised and abused women using the innocuous item – and they didn’t let anyone (but the intended target) know.

It’s not something many people think about, but every month, homeless women face an impossible decision: do they buy food, or tampons? Many, in desperation, will resort to makeshift replacements like socks or paper towels, which can cause infections.

Women who live on the street feel a sense of shame and vulnerability, which prevents them from walking into a Shoppers to ask for help. So John St. created “The Monthly” to preserve their privacy and dignity, creating tampons disguised as periodicals.

The tampons were stored in unused newspaper boxes. Hiding in plain sight, the boxes dispensed tampons when women opened them using a secret PIN given by shelters.

Shoppers has deliberately not promoted the program (which won a Silver in Cause/Public Service) to preserve the initiative’s discretion. But the success of the initiative has led the Toronto City Council to waive the permit fee for Shoppers to install boxes in other areas.

Similarly, the Interval House’s “Freedom Tampons” was a covert effort and relied on the utmost discretion.

Women in abusive relationships are always monitored, so the non-profit gave them the info they need to leave an abusive relationship in the one place a man never looks: a box of tampons.

The Silver Niche Strategy-winning campaign, created by Union, saw Freedom print each tampon with life-saving info, as well as a crisis hotline, and place boxes in public washrooms and also send them to counsellors, healthcare workers and the police (people who are in direct contact with victims of abuse).

Since launch, calls to the Interval House have increased by 176% and the response has been so positive that a second run of tampons is in the works.