SickKids offers a light of hope amid uncertainty

The latest iteration of the "VS." platform illustrates the importance of a new hospital in breaking through the anxiety of the unknown.

Every time the SickKids Foundation takes its “VS” platform to market, it faces the same challenge: finding a way to contextualize it within what is occurring in the world at the time.

With its new “Be A Light” campaign, once again led by Cossette, the non-profit wanted to find a respectful way to connect to the public sentiment and context of this current point in time and the COVID-19 pandemic, while also continuing to drive its fundraising campaign to build a new Hospital for Sick Children.

“That was the business challenge for us, and when we looked at what is unique about this year, it’s that the general public understands right now – more than any other time – how important hospitals are,” says Kate Torrance, VP of brand strategy and communications with the foundation.

In addition, she says, SickKids noticed an “interesting parallel between COVID and what a SickKids family feels” because, like COVID, childhood illness can show up out of nowhere and change the lives of everyone around the person affected by it. “That has been true for SickKids families all along.”

The new campaign centres on a 2:30 film with several cutdowns that showcases the impact of childhood illness – how its sudden onset can leave families shocked, struggling with anxieties about the future and the child’s wellbeing.

“That’s something that came from speaking with parents directly. They all described something similar: the moment that their child suffers a trauma or receives a serious diagnosis, they’re hit with this instant darkness. It’s worry, anxiety and a fear of the unknown,” says Craig McIntosh, ECD at Cossette.

Set to a cover of Simple Minds’ “Don’t You (Forget About Me),” the spot manifests those anxieties with the visual of a dark cloud washing over every scene, eventually engulfing the entirety of the frame.

But then, a light is lit that drives back the darkness, followed by many others. It’s a metaphor for the hope that families find in the care given by SickKids, McIntosh says, “because the kids are in the best and most capable hands in the world.”

Ultimately, the campaign – like the platform before it – is “all about winning,” he adds.

“That’s the ultimate goal. We need to win for these kids and also, we want donors to feel like they’re part of the winning team and their money is going toward making a difference,” says McIntosh. “We always focus on that bold, confident, winning attitude because it’s truly reflective of the actual team at SickKids. It’s the number one children’s hospital in the world.”

It’s the “stretchability” of the “VS” platform that makes it work so well, says Heather Clark, SVP of mass, direct and digital marketing with the SickKids Foundation. Because of the nature of the platform, it can reach many different audiences with many different tones – from a more upbeat message to promote its lottery program to an intimate one-to-one with former SickKids patients that helped replicate face-to-face canvassing during pandemic lockdowns.

“It’s a way to tell all of these different kinds of stories,” she says.

The campaign will run through to December, incorporating OOH, OLV, digital, and paid and organic social. Citizen Relations led PR, while OMD led media planning and buying.