Raising the Roof puts up signs of the time to combat homelessness

Who: Raising The Roof and The Local Collective for creative, M&K Media and The Colony Project for PR.

What: A national awareness and fundraising campaign for the homelessness charity.

When & Where: The campaign started in late January on TV, radio, print, social and out of home, running until the end of March.

Why: Because 235,000 Canadians experience homelessness each year, and one in seven of those using a shelter is a child. But like any charity or non-profit, Raising The Roof has a hard time breaking through with potential donors these days. There are so many organizations vying for attention that many people stop paying attention altogether, said Matt Litzinger, president chief creative officer of The Local Collective.

“We really latched onto this stat that one in seven people using a homeless shelter is a child,” he said. The agency felt that number could help them change the conversation about homeless in a way that would really break through. “We just knew creatively we could make something that would get people to pay attention.”

How: Mass advertising on mostly donated media across the country, along with some attention-grabbing out-of-home that mimics the cardboard signs often held by homeless people asking for money on the street. The handwritten messages aren’t asking for food or money, they are the simple dreams of children hoping for a better future, accompanied by the tagline “Dreams shouldn’t be homeless.”

“In this digital world where everybody can click through and there’s content galore we decided we know homelessness is a very analogue problem, so maybe we should flip this and go at it from an analog solution,” said Litzinger.

As a PR and earned media play, a 25-foot castle made from cardboard signs was erected in front of Toronto’s City Hall for several days around Toque Tuesday on Feb. 4, when RTR asks for people to buy a toque, baseball cap or socks for the cause. Smaller versions of the cardboard castle are appearing in other cities across the country.

Real cardboard: Wild postings were made on real cardboard. “We thought it was more attention grabbing when you used actual cardboard,” said Litzinger. Many of the postings were taken down within days by homeless people, who wanted the cardboard for their own signs, said Litzinger.

Digital cardboard: In Dundas Square, the public gathering place in the heart of downtown Toronto surrounded by massive high resolution digital billboards, two of the most prominent digital screens were made to look like a massive cardboard sign with the message “When I grow up I’m gonna be an astronaut” and “When I am bigger I’ll be a cowboy.”

Quote: “Most people ignore the signs that say ‘Need money for food’ or ‘Lost my job’ or whatever it is. But it’s very interesting when you see those same iconic [cardboard] signs and instead of listing issues adults are having, it’s the kind of dreams that kids hope for.”—Matt Litzinger, president chief creative officer of The Local Collective

David Brown