SickKids unveils more future-focused VS campaign to match new goals

Who: SickKids Foundation, with Cossette for strategy and creative; Spy Films for production (directed by Henry Scholfield); visuals by Studio Feather and Wicked Pixels, using AI and new VFX technology; Norman Wong for photography; Wave Studios NY for sound design and mix, in collaboration with Toronto’s Vapor Music; tenthree for editing; OMD for media; and Citizen Relations for PR.

What: “Heal the Future,” a new SickKids “VS” campaign shifting its fundraising focus to a new approach to care called Precision Child Health (PCH). It’s the first major campaign after the long-running fundraising effort to rebuild the aging hospital that inspired the “VS” positioning seven years ago.

When & Where: The campaign is live now on online video and social channels, as well as high-impact out-of-home, including dominations at Yonge-Dundas Square, Union Station, a TTC subway train, and Billy Bishop Airport. There is also a larger-than-life crystal ball symbolizing SickKids’ promise to heal the future. It was originally in front of the hospital, but has been moved to Front Street Plaza at Union Station until Oct. 15.

Why: After completing the largest fundraising campaign in Canadian healthcare history, raising $1.7 billion to build a new hospital, SickKids’ VS has shifted its approach to reflect its new fundraising focus: a movement in paediatric care called Precision Child Health (PCH).

As a key pillar of SickKids 2025, the 2020–2025 SickKids strategic plan, this care model leaves behind a one-size-fits-all approach to paediatric medicine. Rather, it aims to collect and integrate all the information a patient provides, from their genetic code to their postal code, to provide individualized care that addresses their unique characteristics. Utilizing PCH, SickKids will be able to diagnose faster, and even predict the risks of genetic conditions before illness strikes.

“PCH is a game-changer for SickKids,” said Kate Torrance, vice-president, head of brand at SickKids Foundation. “It’s not just one program or initiative—it’s a seismic cultural shift in how SickKids cares for its patients.”

How is the new VS different? “The original tone of the VS brand was very focused on what SickKids was fighting against,” says Torrance. “It had this kind of real gritty, almost a dark, edgy feel to it, which did exactly what we needed to do at the time in terms of breaking category norms.

“As we were fundraising for a new building, we wanted to [highlight] the gaps, deficiencies and problems as a way of bringing in donors. But now we’re shifting to a place where we’re actually talking about the possibilities instead of the problems. And as a result, we felt the brand tone needed to shift. Because the VS platform is so versatile, it has the ability for us to tell different stories and hit different emotional notes,” she added.

How (the strategy): In strategizing the VS rebrand, SickKids had two key considerations: how do they reignite the interest of the general public? And how do they stand out from competitors? “Because we transformed what not-for-profit advertising could be, we were noticing a lot of other charities in the healthcare sector sort of mimicking a lot of our look, feel and tone,” said Torrance. “And we needed to differentiate ourselves again.

“From the brand standpoint, we looked at what was going on in the zeitgeist and we saw that after the pandemic, people were craving things that were focused on optimism and hope, things that felt brighter, more modern, more youthful. These were things we could tap into, because they’re naturally part of our brand.”

How (the creative): The campaign is anchored by a short film inspired by a SickKids patient named Nathan, who died at 10 from a heart condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Though SickKids was aware of Nathan’s genetic condition, at the time, it not have the tools or technology to understand that he was at high risk for sudden cardiac death. The technology available today changes that, which is why the film imagines an alternative reality in which PCH saves Nathan’s life.

Soundtracked by the Billie Eilish song “Everything I Wanted,” it opens on a teenage boy collapsing in the schoolyard, before the viewer is whisked back through time, witnessing key moments in his life where he’s affected by his condition. The rewind stops at a doctor consultation, in which a doctor informs the boy’s parents that a small implanted device can restart his heart if it ever stops.

The spot then transports viewers forward in time to see the boy living his full life right up to the moment of his collapse, when the device restarts his heart in the schoolyard. SickKids and Cossette describe it as a dramatization of “PCH’s ability to search the past, analyze the present, and heal the future for a child.”

Since the film sets itself apart from recent Sickkids’ campaigns, it focused on a single patient story with a positive outcome.

And we quote: “It’s the first time we’ve told the story of a child and what it means to live a fulfilling life when an early diagnosis is possible. There’s a quote at SickKids that inspired much of this work: ‘Don’t just heal the child, heal the adult they will become.’ This had us fighting for children’s futures when traditionally, we’ve been focusing on our fight in the present.” — Anthony Atkinson, executive creative director, Cossette

Emma Johnston-Wheeler