BlackNorth wants to disrupt the safe spaces of allies who’ve forgotten about racism

Who: BlackNorth with Isobar for strategy and creative, and Dentsu for media.

What: “Part of the Problem,” a new campaign reminding the public that, one year after Black Lives Matter protests shook the world, the enduring problems of systemic racism haven’t gone anywhere.

When & Where: The campaign debuted today and is in market until Sept. 2, running in outdoor, digital out-of-home, online and social video, as well as cinema.

Why: Isobar’s parent company Dentsu was an early signatory to the BlackNorth initiative last year in the wake of the widespread unrest following the murder of George Floyd. Formed by well-known Toronto businessman Wes Hall, BlackNorth focused on rallying leaders of corporate Canada to improve representation in the business world and knock down some of the structural underpinnings of anti-Black systemic racism in Canada.

“It was kind of that top-down approach to facilitate change,” said Ryan Johnson, associate creative director from Isobar.

A year later, the focus is changing. BlackNorth wanted to reach those people who have perhaps become complacent since the issue was front page news last summer. “They wanted to remind people that the fight for equality when it comes to anti-Black systemic racism is ongoing,” said Johnson. “This one is for everyone now; to get all of Canada on board, not just corporate Canada.”

How: “They wanted us to go to those allies who might have gone dormant and in a way disrupt their safe space,” said Johnson. Research from Isobar’s strategy team found that people who supported the cause last year have been “able to tune out” the problem this year; for many their focus has returned to cottage trips and home renovations.

“We wanted to disrupt those safe spaces and serve ads with a bit of a bait-and-switch technique,” he said.

The seven video ads begin with the look and feel of a lifestyle ad, but then reveal a pointed anti-racism message that reminds the viewer life is not as good for many Black Canadians who suffer with the challenges of systemic racism.

One ad at first appears to be for a cosmetic facial cream, before revealing an unsettling statistic about healthcare for Black women: “Black women are 3x less likely to have a family doctor in Ontario.” Other ads focus on food insecurity, education, housing, social justice and business representation.

The ads end with the tag line “Part of the problem” and direct viewers to “find solutions at” The goal is to get people to visit the site again, to raise awareness and hopefully get them to donate or volunteer to support the work being done to tackle systemic racism.

Targeting: Social video and particularly YouTube allowed Isobar to be a bit more targeted with the buy, said Johnson. “It really achieved that goal of getting into those areas where they might not otherwise see this type of advertisement.”

And we quote: “Just because [anti-Black systemic racism] is not in the news every day doesn’t mean it’s not still happening. This campaign serves as a reminder of that, and to expose how insidious it is, from healthcare, to work to education, it manifests itself in all areas.” — Ryan Johnson, associate creative director, Isobar

David Brown