SickKids thanks one of its biggest stars, Ryan Reynolds

SickKids Foundation is publicly thanking actor Ryan Reynolds for his extensive work on behalf of the organization with a slightly offbeat ad designed to inspire further donations.

The organization is running the thank you ad in major daily newspapers including The Globe and Mail and Toronto Star this weekend, with additional ads set to appear in upcoming issues of Toronto Life and Hello! Canada. The media buy was handled by OMD Canada.

SickKids Foundation typically uses print to recognize both individual and corporate donors, said Kate Torrance, vice-president, brand strategy and communications. “It’s a great platform for showcasing [their efforts] to the C-suite community in particular,” she said. While Hello! Canada is not a typical advertising channel for a brand like SickKids, it made sense for this campaign given Reynolds’ celebrity.

The 2010 winner of People magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive turned advertising powerhouse has helped raise more than $2 million for the organization since 2017, through a combination of personal donations and publicity efforts designed to inspire others to donate.

“The power of his name and his profile… has been a huge amplifier of our message, and has actually introduced us to a potential pool of donors we might not otherwise have reached,” said Torrance.

Reynolds’ involvement has been a major factor in SickKids’ ability to increase the size of its donor base outside of Canada, said Torrance. The Hollywood star has been a “big contributor” to the organization nearing its goal of amassing 1 million unique donors to the ongoing “Vs.” campaign, she added.

“He has really set a best-in-class example of how someone can use their talent to help a cause they care about,” said Torrance. “This ad is allowing us to use his story as a way of inspiring others.”

Created by the SickKids Foundation’s in-house agency, the ads feature Reynolds’ head floating in the vastness of space, atop a headline reading “The universe and Ryan are calling.”

The accompanying copy talks about the power of karma, empathy, compassion and giving back. “You found your lost keys, your crush answered your text, a random dog ran to you for pets—could be that you’re just lucky, or maybe it’s the universe and Ryan Reynolds,” it begins, before concluding with an entreaty to readers to get involved in causes that matter to them.

The goal was to turn a traditional recognition ad “on its head,” and make it slightly more charming and conceptual than usual, said Torrance. “[We wanted to] share his rather serendipitous story in a way that reflects his own voice and fun personality.

“It wasn’t about trying to put him on a pedestal, but rather demonstrate what we can all learn from somebody like him,” she added. “That’s what resonated with him, and he appreciated that he had some fun with it.”

The ad establishes “Apathy” as the “versus” that SickKids is up against, which Torrance said is the biggest obstacle for any charity to overcome. “It’s always easy for people to do nothing, when they’re asked to support a cause,” she said. “Apathy represents what we’re up against.”

Reynolds first got involved with SickKids after the ceremony for his star being placed on Canada’s Walk of Fame in 2014. where he encountered a young patient with an aggressive form of bone cancer named Grace Bowen. Reynolds dedicated his 2017 Critic’s Choice Award to the memory of Bowen, who succumbed to the disease in 2015, and another victim of childhood cancer named Connor McGrath.

The Hollywood star appeared in his first ad for SickKids in 2017, and has been a fixture in the holiday-sweater themed campaign for the couple of years.

“We wanted to tell the authentic story of Ryan’s relationship with us, and why he believes so strongly in the cause” said Torrance. “Because it was about Ryan, we felt we needed to tip our hat to his voice and his brand, and how much fun he’s made things.”

SickKids first approached Reynolds about running thank you ads in the wake of last year’s holiday campaign. “We took this to him to say ‘We took a look at how much you’ve raised for us, how much you’ve given to us, and we’d really love to tell your story about how you got involved, and publicly thank you,'” said Torrance.

SickKids’ recently surpassed $1.2 billion in donations for its “Vs.” campaign. The initial target was $1.3 billion, but the organization has since extended that to $1.5 billion, which Torrance said it expects to achieve before the spring of 2023.

Chris Powell