Outpost379 helps the YMCA of Greater Toronto shine

Who: YMCA of Greater Toronto, with Outpost379 for strategy, creative and media, and Veritas Communications for PR. Directed by Kevin Donovan, with animation by Polycat Visual Effects.

What: “Shine On,” a new brand platform and campaign (described as the organization’s “biggest integrated brand awareness to date”) to raise awareness about the breadth of services offered by the charity and its impact on the community.

Where: The campaign is running on TV (60-, 30- and 15-second versions), online (video, social and display), outdoor and through PR activities. It is live now, running through the end of the year.

Why: The YMCA of Greater Toronto has focused its previous communications on the benefits of specific programs and services, but many people did not realize the full scope of its services and the important role it plays in the community. “A surprising number of people think it is just a gym,” said Outpost379 executive creative director Rick Kemp in an email interview with The Message.

The goal of this new platform and campaign is to build awareness of the brand as a charity that helps build vibrant communities by helping anyone reach their full potential—or “shine”—through a wide range of programs and services.

The ultimate goal is to drive donations and program enrolment, said Kemp. “The brand campaign will create a solid foundation for more effective acquisition campaigns for the various programs and services.”

How: The campaign is anchored by an animated ad called “Fara & The Firefly,” which shows a young firefly that, as hard as it tries, can’t light up like its pals. The firefly is befriended by Fara, who wants to help it shine like the others. After a number of failed ideas and attempts to shine, the firefly finally figures out how to do it.

After placing a grateful kiss on Fara’s nose, the firefly flies off to rejoin its friends. The ad closes with “Shine On” and the line: “YMCA: A charity that ignites the potential in everyone.”

Outpost379 wanted an idea that was big enough to encompass everything that YMCA offers, cut through the clutter, connect with people on an emotional level, and serve as a focal point for how the charity operates. “We wanted to create a philosophy, rather than talk about benefits,” said Kemp. “We wanted a call to action. We wanted it to feel anthemic yet authentic.”

They landed on “Shine” as a euphemism for people being a better version of themselves. “It feels so positive, so easy to understand. And so true to the YMCA of Greater Toronto,” said Kemp. “Shine On,” meanwhile, became the call-to-action that can be carried across all communications going forward.

The pandemic effect: The campaign was in development before the pandemic hit. “We were actually days away from shooting a totally different ad, still under the ‘Shine On’ platform, but it was live-action and not a firefly in sight,” said Kemp.

Everything was put on hold when the YMCA was forced to close its doors for public safety reasons. When it was time to revisit the campaign, the agency decided “Shine On” was more relevant than ever after such a dark time, although the approach had to be updated.

“We knew we had to inspire people to believe in their potential,” said Kemp. “And that’s where the animated film came from. We had to bring our message to the world in a way that was uplifting, engaging and motivating, at a time when the city is on its knees.”

The music: “We wanted a famous, uplifting track, but obviously didn’t have a big-track budget,” said Kemp. “When we got permission from Yoko Ono to use John Lennon’s ‘Instant Karma,’ we were over the moon.”

And we quote: “For more than 170 years, the Y has become both a beacon of inspiration and a trusted anchor of support by offering a safe destination where people can ignite their true potential. We were passionate that the Shine On campaign convey the ethos characteristic of the Y’s approach and be the unifying pillar of our organization.” —Nora Gorman, senior vice-president, marketing and communications, YMCA of Greater Toronto

David Brown