SickKids builds a monument to its patients’ bravery

The hospital has given out one million "Bravery Beads" to patients, inspiring a high-impact approach to reach a similar donor milestone.
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SickKids recently reached a major milestone, having given away more than one million “Bravery Beads,” badges of honour that patients earn after a procedure or other event on their healthcare journeys at the hospital.

But it is also beginning to approach another major milestone: it is only 5,000 individual donors away from reaching one million, a goal it is looking to reach as part of a $1.5 billion campaign it has been running over the last three years to help it build a new and updated SickKids hospital.

“Celebrating our patients’ million acts of bravery as we approach one million donors to the country’s largest healthcare fundraising campaign seemed like a very natural and serendipitous opportunity,” says Angela Murphy, VP, campaign at SickKids Foundation.

The Bravery Beads are integrated into this year’s “VS.” campaign, which explains that the beads are not incentives, rewards or pick-me-ups like a lollipop after a doctor’s visit, but “badges of honour” that must be earned, symbolizing a patient’s strength and resilience. This happens as various beads fly through a hospital’s halls and rooms, before settling on necklaces hanging from the neck of one little girl, encouraging viewers to get SickKids across the finish line for its fundraising goal.

Kate Torrance, director of integrated brand marketing at SickKids Foundation, says the hospital’s “VS.” platform has always been versatile and accommodates a range of tones. For the latest campaign, it is once again presenting itself as a performance brand, taking inspiration from sports brands that use music to set a mood and a challenge, eventually resolving it with triumphant images. This ad uses a slowed-down, piano cover of Nirvana’s “Heart Shaped Box,” a disruptive approach that will catch the attention of younger and older donors alike. She adds that the “performance” approach – which SickKids first embraced in 2016 – is still very fresh for the non-profit category, and a far cry from teddy bears and rainbows.

The beads are also the inspiration for an installation called “Monument to the Brave,” designed and built by contemporary artist Nico Williams from Bravery Beads donated by former patients and their families. The sculpture will be installed at the new SickKids building, and 10-foot, giant versions of the beads will appear throughout the city of Toronto until December as part of an on-the-ground rallying cry for donations.

The first giant bravery bead, representing the one earned by patients for completing their course of treatment, was just unveiled at CF Toronto Eaton Centre, where it will remain until November 10. Other giant beads will appear at SickKids, as well as places like CF Sherway Gardens, Union Station and Vaughan Mills shopping mall.

“It’s the first time we have done anything quite like this,” Torrance says. “It’s a great device to capture attention and engage with passersby,” she says, and help people learn about the Bravery Beads program and reinforcing the goal of one million donors.

Non-profits have been struggling through the pandemic, due to economic concerns holding back donations among some people and others diverting their funds to things like food banks or efforts more tied to pandemic recovery. But with a more disruptive approach both in its creative and on the city streets, Torrance says SickKids is trying to keep hospitals top of mind, as these institutions are really important, especially with COVID, as kids can be vulnerable and unable to socialize thanks to distancing protocols.

Torrance says marketing spend is lower than SickKids has previously done at this time of year, as it only produced one piece of content and “the generosity of partners” continues to give it free and discounted media space. The campaign was developed in partnership with AOR Cossette, Citizen Relations and OMD.

Out-of-home advertising includes branded digital boards at Yonge and Dundas Square, along Toronto’s Gardiner Expressway and transit shelters throughout the Greater Toronto Area.