“The single greatest piece of healthcare creative I’ve ever seen.”
“This video gave me chills.”
“I’m bawling my eyes out.”
These are just a few of the comments YouTube viewers left after watching the video “SickKids VS: Undeniable.” SickKids is the official trademarked nickname for The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Canada. The video is part of a larger healthcare advertising campaign titled “SickKids VS,” in which pediatric patients are portrayed as warriors against disease.
Bold, even shocking, it’s essentially a 2-minute music video starring sick children—along with a supporting cast of gladiators, wrestlers, weightlifters, boxers, even a roaring tiger. The premise of the video is proclaimed in large block letters in the first few seconds: “SICK ISN’T WEAK. SICK FIGHTS BACK.” Even the song is an edgy choice: “Undeniable” by Donnie Daydream, featuring rapper Richie Sosa. The original rap lyrics (only some of which are used in the video) are certainly not kid friendly, but the repeated refrain, “We undeniable,” is the perfect soundtrack for the kids fighting cancer, cystic fibrosis, autism, kidney disease, and other formidable opponents.
Created by Cossette, one of Canada’s largest ad agencies, the campaign and the video were both lauded and criticized, with some arguing that the battle metaphor did a disservice to children whose battle cannot be won. In a 2016 opinion piece in The Globe and Mail (a Canadian newspaper), columnist André Picard writes, “The hospital and foundation have offended part of their clientele, namely parents of children with chronic illnesses and life-long disabilities, who don’t see themselves represented in the ‘we shall overcome’ messaging.”
Why We Love It
The campaign was aimed at raising funds for the SickKids Foundation, the charitable arm of the hospital. With sick children as the centerpiece of an advertising campaign, it would have been easy to fall back on an approach that tugged at the heartstrings, portraying the children as helpless victims of circumstance who needed the hospital and donors to fight on their behalf. This video went in the opposite direction, empowering the kids as participants in the fight. With so many charities vying for dollars, SickKids found a way to stand out in a bold and inspiring way. In the year following the video’s release, the Foundation raised over $140 million, up two million from the year before.
We also like the ambiguity of the phrase “Sick Fights Back.” “Sick” could refer to either the patients, the name of the hospital, or both, fighting together. While some objected to the battle metaphor, many others found it empowering. As one YouTube commenter wrote, “This made me feel so powerful. I have an autoimmune disease, so I know exactly what it’s like to be seen as weak. Thank you for this.”
This is post #4 in our blog series: Just what the doctor ordered: 10 examples of creative healthcare advertising.