How the industry is helping people handle COVID-19

From providing levity to mobilizing donations, how some agencies and marketers have been giving back to their communities.

Union creates “Zoom-scuses

If you’re one of the millions of Canadians working from home and using Zoom, and you’re feeling a little camera shy, you can now upload profile images that will put your colleagues’ questions to rest:  “Camera Off Because My Pants And I Are Social Distancing,” or “Camera Off Because I Cut My Own Bangs Last Night.”

These are just two of the 14 “Zoom-scuses” created by Toronto-based agency Union.

ZOOMSCUSE-Pants[1]      ZOOMSCUSE-Bangs[1]

In the era of COVID-19 and working from home, the agency noticed that “more and more people” opted not to turn their cameras on during video calls. These images allow colleagues to avoid awkward conversations about why they have their camera off, when they don’t have it in them to say they’re still in their workout gear or pajamas.

“From our weekend wear, to the inside of our homes, we’ve all had to share a more personal side of ourselves over the last few weeks,” said Lance Martin, chief creative officer of Union. “That can take some getting used to. Little things like this can help us ease into this uncharted territory with a sense of humour.”

The CMA’s “Marketers Respond”

The Canadian Marketing Association recently launched “Marketers Respond,” a hub of initiatives marketers are spearheading in their organizations to help make a difference to the marketing community and others communities affected by COVID-19.

The kinds of initiatives being highlighted are things like Telus making a $10-million commitment to help support and enhance public healthcare capacity and community response across Canada, or Harry Rosen repurposing some of its dress shirts to produce  non-clinical face masks.

The objective is to show the significant role marketers play in helping communities, and to encourage and motivate those who are in a position of strength to support those in need.

Sara Clodman, vice president of public affairs and thought leadership at the CMA, highlights in an email to strategy that it is specifically drawing attention to the adversity its members in the not-for-profit sector are facing.

“We would also like to draw attention to our many CMA members in the not-for-profit sector who rely on donations and fundraising efforts to support vulnerable individuals and groups. Many of these organizations have had to cancel major fundraising campaigns, and many find it difficult in today’s environment to ask for donations,” she writes.

The CMA notes how it wants to hear from marketers and their organizations if they’re re-tooling products or services, donating profits to an important cause, or launching other creative initiatives in response to the contemporary environment.

Daniel Ehman’s indoor walk-a-thon

Daniel Ehman of MKTG, a lifestyle marketing agency in the Dentsu network, put a social distancing spin on the classic walk-a-thon, walking for 24 hours straight in his apartment in order to raise funds for a charity geared toward helping homeless and low-income individuals.

Ehman walked more than 60 kilometres in his apartment building starting on Sat. April 11, broadcasting it on Zoom. Ehman tells strategy in an email that he set this up as a fundraiser for the Fred Victor Centre, the Toronto-based charitable organization that has programs pertaining to affordable housing, transitional housing, shelters and emergency respite sites.

The walk-a-thon raised $5,000 for the Fred Victor Centre, and Ehman also sold more than $1,000 worth of his new “Siglo” clothing line as an additional fundraising for the charity.

Ehman says he had friends, family and complete strangers who came together to virtually walk with him over the course of the day, in light of physical distancing guidelines. He says they tried to make it like a “real telethon,” and had musical performances from artists such as Kris Barclay, Madison Olds and Emma Hanes, along with inspirational check-ins.

The Vanity’s “Listen to Larry”

The Toronto-based production house The Vanity is telling people to “Listen to Larry” David by curbing your enthusiasm and urge to go outside. Using the actor and director’s more than minute-long message about COVID-19, to “address the idiots out there” who are going out and “socializing too close” and telling them to “stay in the house, sit on the couch and watch TV.”

The Vanity’s animated version of the rant features things like magazine covers, posters and TVs that contain the words David is saying.

Klick Health distributes PPE throughout Toronto 

Klick Health has donated more than 300,000 masks to hospitals and healthcare systems across the Greater Toronto Area in response to the growing need.

The masks have been earmarked for Toronto-area hospitals, such as Mount Sinai Hospital, Baycrest, Humber River Hospital, Michael Garron Hospital, Princess Margaret Hospital, Sunnybrook Hospital, Toronto General Hospital, Trillium Health Partners and Women’s College Hospital. That’s on top of 300 intubation boxes it developed with Humber River Hospital for GTA hospitals in need.

In a release, Klick called on other companies to “step up” and help make sure Toronto’s healthcare community and first responders are protected during the escalating pandemic.

Klick has also established the Frontlines.Health Foundation – a donor-advised fund housed within the Toronto Foundation – to fund the materials and development of additional intubation boxes, masks and other types of PPE. Klick will continue to cover all project design, project management and partner coordination costs of these items.

Brand Heroes and Studio 10 enlist Canadians in the fight against the pandemic


Two Toronto-based creative agencies have collaborated on a campaign that frames the battle against COVID-19 as a war, celebrates citizens as the soldiers, and brand stories as the “new powerful weapon.”

Brand Heroes and Studio 10 have re-hashed World War II-inspired propaganda posters, re-purposed for the current “war” against COVID-19.

According to a press release about the campaign, it describes how these posters – which contain phrases such as, “Keep Apart. But Stay Together,” and “Couch Potatoes Unite” – celebrate “a higher calling” and “mobilize the populace towards it.” Another poster shows frontline medical workers, with the caption: “By Staying Home. You Protect Them. So They Can Protect You.”

“These posters are meant to change the conversation and not point fingers at the people who aren’t following the rules, but to motivate all of us to think on a deeper level about why we must follow them, and the significant role we all play in winning this war,” the press release states.

The agencies are asking others to not only share these posters, but to build and improve on them to inspire greater conversations and prompt society to imagine the potential they have to “bring about a better day.”

“Marketing agencies are by their very nature competitive, secretive entities.  Now is not the time for it,” the release states. “There’s no victory in holding on to good ideas. They must be spread and built upon. Do what you wish with these posters, but please brand the battle, we all desperately need it.”