One simple idea forever changed the face of charity: Sickness doesn’t mean weakness.
Talk is cheap, so to meet the aggressive fundraising goals of Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, Cossette decided to stop talking like a charity brand and start acting like a performance brand. The agency showed the world what it looks like when sick fights back.
Launched in 2016, SickKids’ VS brand had the ambitious target of raising $1.5 billion – making it the largest fundraiser in Canadian health care history. In 2022, the final year of the campaign, SickKids and Cossette created ‘House of Legends.’ By March of 2023, that $1.5-billion target had been met.
Led by former CEO Ted Gerrard, this campaign redefined charity fundraising, raising an astounding $1.7 billion in just seven years.
SickKids had traditionally relied on philanthropy and government grants. In 2016, the hospital set a formidable fundraising target of $1 billion, later adjusted to $1.5 billion. But where to find donors?
The hospital took a big risk with the campaign and its bold ‘VS’ concept, and rallied the organization around it. This is not how charities traditionally behaved. There was a media ‘backlash’, but that drew more supporters out of the woodwork.
That risk paid off, and the VS brand strategy became an instantly recognisable hit, with celebrities taking part (Cold Play’s ‘Fix You’ was donated for 30-second spots), and people got VS tattoos.
This marked the beginning of a journey to build a new hospital, necessitating a groundbreaking approach to fundraising.
Recognizing the need to break from traditional charity narratives, SickKids partnered with Cossette to revolutionize their branding and communication strategy. The Versus campaign aimed to engage diverse audiences through a compelling, edgy story that shifted the narrative from victimhood to resilience.
Funding the new hospital would mean donors were funding a fight against childhood diseases.
The campaign showcased the battles fought by patients, families, and the hospital itself, becoming a rallying cry for the community. It empowered individuals to declare their own "versus" and join SickKids in the fight against childhood illnesses, transcending controversy with its authenticity.
Donors became part of the SickKids community, joining the fight. The campaign led SickKids’ target audiences to believe they were doing more than just giving money.
The SickKids VS campaign stands as a testament to the power of bold, authentic storytelling in fundraising. By challenging the norm, engaging diverse audiences, and staying true to its mission, SickKids achieved unparalleled success, reshaping the landscape of charity advertising.
The impact of SickKids VS was monumental. Prior to the campaign, the organization was raising $80 million annually, but after its launch, that number surged to over $200 million per year. Donors also grew from a couple of hundred thousand to 330,000. The campaign's ability to reach new audiences, including millennials and diverse communities, played a pivotal role in this success.