United Way’s doorbell video provides a new perspective on homelessness

Who: United Way Halifax, with Wunder for strategy, creative and media.

What: “The Doorbell,” a holiday campaign designed to raise awareness of the growing number of people in Halifax who are experiencing homelessness, while urging people to donate to the charity.

When & Where: The campaign debuted this week (timed to coincide with Giving Tuesday) and is running on TV throughout December, supported by online and social.

Why: According to the Affordable Housing Association of Nova Scotia, more than 690 people were experiencing homelessness in Halifax as of September, which is more than double the number from 2021. Rising rents, fixed-term leases, and wages not keeping up with inflation are all contributing to the problem. In addition, the group says that thousands of people are just a few missed paycheques away from becoming homeless.

Wunder has been working with United Way Halifax since 2019, with a previous holiday campaign including “One hundred thousand,” which used tactics including an interminably scrolling website and a photocopier producing page after page of people’s names to illustrate the estimated 100,000 people who require the organization’s services.

The agency also created a Covid response campaign called “No Home,” which saw stickers reading “no home” affixed to walls near sleeping bags, alongside signs featuring messages including “We have no place to wash our hands” and “Some things are even harder in a crisis.”

How: In development for the past year, the entire 60-second spot is shot through a Ring video doorbell, which was selected because it provided the horizontal footage required to run on TV, as well as the ability to remove the watermark from captured video.

Much of the spot, created from between 30 and of 40 hours of video footage, shows typical slice-of-life moments in the month leading up Christmas—packages being delivered, a family bringing home a tree, kids building a snowman, and the family welcoming guests (all of the people in the spot are actors).

The final scene shows someone who’s experiencing homelessness pushing a shopping cart filled with their possessions down the street, as the super “Not everyone has a home for the holidays” appears on the screen and drives people to UnitedWayHalifax.ca to donate.

“We wanted to have that build-up to create a bit of contrast,” said Wunder’s creative director, Stephen Flynn. “Until you’ve seen the ending, none of these moments would stand out as being out of the ordinary. It’s just someone having friends over, and going skating. We thought it was a nice way to build up to flipping the script. It’s quite a perspective shift.”

And we quote: “We’re able to get a little bit of that engagement boost with the way the spot looks, because when someone sees doorbell footage, they feel like they’re getting a peek into someone else’s life.” — Stephen Flynn, creative director, Wunder

Chris Powell