With ‘Unmet,’ social service agency WoodGreen shows how it meets clients’ needs

Who: Social service agency WoodGreen, with Open for strategy and creative; Skin & Bones for production (directed by David Quinn); Nimiopere, Oso Audio, Wingman VFX and Darling for post-production; donated media.

What: “Unmet,” a new brand platform and campaign that shows how WoodGreen provides assistance to at-need Torontonians in an attempt to get it on the radar of the public, philanthropists and corporate Canada. It’s the first work from Open, which won the business in an RFP last year.

When & Where: The campaign launched this week with a two-minute anchor spot running across WoodGreen’s owned and operated channels, as well as donated media.

Why: WoodGreen has existed for 85 years, and is one of the largest social service agencies in Toronto, with a $50 million operating budget that helps it serve about 37,000 people each year across a broad array of areas, including physical and mental health, disability services, affordable housing and pathways to employment.

But executive director Teresa Vasilopoulos said that while WoodGreen is well-respected for its work over the years, it has struggled to raise awareness—not only among potential clients, but also the philanthropic community and corporate Canada.

“That was the dilemma we went to Open with, which is ‘How does an organization like WoodGreen get to find our place in the market, get people to understand who we are and bring attention to the unmet needs across the city?'” said Vasilopoulos. “It was kind of a tall order, but we’re just thrilled with how it’s going.”

Why now: The pandemic had a pronounced affect on the city’s marginalized communities, and Vasilopoulos said that WoodGreen is “like the canary in a coal mine,” revealing the potential ramifications for the community. “We’re seeing it before everybody’s seeing it, and thinking we really need to raise more money in order to help solve some of these issues,” she said. “You need to be thinking about how we can solve some of these issues in a bigger way.”

How: The campaign’s two-minute anchor spot uses before and after scenarios to show the many constituencies served by WoodGreen. It opens on an empty room containing a wheelchair and family photos, and the word “unseen” appearing on the wall, before cutting to a bingo game where an elderly woman calls “bingo” and her photo, prominently featuring the word “seen,” is placed on a wall celebrating players of the month.

Another scenario features a car pulling into a driveway late at night, where newcomers to Canada find that their garage door has been spray-painted with the word “unwelcome.” It then cuts to them being greeted by neighbours at a party, with a cake displaying a welcome message. “This campaign gave us an opportunity to speak to each of the different client groups that we’re dealing within a really succinct way,” said Vasilopoulos.

The spot also avoids showing people in distress, instead relying on some of the symbols that characterize their plight. A scenario featuring someone enduring homelessness, for example, doesn’t show a person, but instead common symbols of homelessness—such as a sleeping bag on a grate, a cardboard sign, and a shopping cart filled with various possessions.

“We didn’t want it to be a campaign that showed people in distress, which is often used in a lot of [charity] marketing,” said Vasilopoulos. “It’s talking about the situation rather than the person, because a lot of people feel that if you talk about the person, you’re sort of blaming them in some way for the situation they’re in.”

And we quote: “We are proud to do work for an organization that will have a profound impact on the people of Toronto. They are an amazing organization that all Torontonians should be aware of. I like to say that WoodGreen makes the UNpossible possible for so many people in our city.” — Martin Beauvais, founder and creative partner, Open

Chris Powell