Cossette and SickKids win the #10YearChallenge

One of the attractions of social media marketing is the possibility of deftly sliding into a trending conversation, or tapping into a viral moment—catching lightning in a bottle and reaping all those lovely likes and retweets.

But for every perfectly delivered zinger at Donald Trump or timely response to a Super Bowl blackout, there are plenty of clumsy attempts at appropriating what’s trending now, including bad takes on everything from the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, to the marking of Martin Luther King Day.

These missteps usually occur because of a perceived need for expedience, with brands and their social agencies failing to stop and properly assess the implications of what they’re saying to potentially millions of followers.

Which brings us to SickKids’ recent efforts around the “#10YearChallenge,” the latest social media phenomenon that has been making the rounds since the beginning of the year. The premise is simple: post a profile pic from 2009 and another from 2019.


It quickly caught fire, with more than 4.3 million Instagram posts using the hashtag at last count. That’s in addition to 3.3 million using #10YearsChallenge and the literally hundreds of thousands of others using similar variations.

The challenge also proved a hit with celebrities, with everyone from Jennifer Lopez to Top Chef‘s Padma Lakshmi and supermodel Tyra Banks posting then and now pictures in what essentially amounted to a vanity exercise—belying their ready access to dieticians, personal trainers and a life lived in almost singleminded pursuit of health and beauty.

Their lives are 180-degrees from the reality of SickKids patients, but Cossette saw in the #10YearChallenge an opportunity to deliver a response that was both totally on-brand and beautiful in its simplicity: A series of Facebook and Instagram posts featuring patients who were battling life-altering medical conditions a decade ago, and today are thriving thanks to the care they received at the Toronto hospital.

Conceived by Andy Ng, a senior copywriter at Cossette, the social campaign was the type of responsive, thoughtful and clever marketing that powerfully demonstrates the power of creativity.

The “face” of the campaign was a former SickKids patient named Madi Scott, who a decade ago was a cancer patient facing an uncertain future and today is captain of the Elon University (North Carolina) Dance Team and about to graduate with two degrees. “The difference is SickKids,” read the Jan. 18 Instagram post, which has garnered more than 7,700 likes and 200 comments.

Another post featured Siena McLaven, today an active high-schooler who is a lifeguard and swimming teacher, and who 10 years ago faced two life-altering challenges: a hole in her heart and a benign facial tumour.

“There’s nothing more powerful and hard-hitting than seeing these children that may not have even been here today if not for SickKids,” says Cossette’s creative director, Craig McIntosh.

“For celebrities [The #10YearChallenge] is almost an anti-aging message, but in our case these children are going to relish the fact they have grey hair or wrinkles or gained a bit of weight, because they’ve been given the opportunity to age. If you gained 50 pounds, or you’ve lost all your hair, are you still going to be taking part? No.”

The idea went from conception to execution in just one day, with McIntosh crediting SickKids VP, brand strategy and communications Lori Davidson for immediately recognizing the strength of the idea. But while they moved quickly, they got the execution just right. It helped that the work was produced by an agency that has been deeply involved in telling the SickKids story for three years now.

The SickKids posts have reached more than 270,000 people on Facebook and also been lauded on both Instagram and Twitter—while also inspiring other former SickKids patients to create their own posts. “That’s when it’s a true success—more so than getting press or accolades,” says McIntosh.

The #10YearChallenge initiative is part of the broader “VS” campaign, which marked an abrupt shift in SickKids’ marketing approach when it debuted three years ago—focusing on “wins” rather than images of ill children.

“We wanted to show people what their money was achieving, and there’s no more powerful proof point than to show a photo from 10 years later showing a child that is happy, healthy and thriving,” says McIntosh. “It was tailor-made for us.”

You might even say picture perfect.

– Chris Powell

Chris Powell