In the Toronto health scene, Scarborough Health Network (SHN) is a big deal.

The SHN serves one of Canada’s most diverse communities through its three hospitals and eight satellite sites. Located in the eastern part of the city on the shores of Lake Ontario, it has been the first stop for many immigrant patients arriving since World War II. 

Today its population consists of 60% new Canadians and 75% visible minorities. Shining a light on that community has been the focus of SHN’s Love, Scarborough campaign, which launched two years ago. 

Its latest installment, Scarborough Grit, was entrusted to local multidisciplinary creative agency Lifelong Crush. A TV spot with the same name uses the network’s employees and a 1998 hip-hop classic to call attention to SHN’s work. 

“Lifelong Crush, as our partners, did this amazing deep dive and held a listening tour where they went out and spoke to many stakeholders,” says Jennifer Lee, associate VP of marketing and communications at SHN. “It was clear that we had big shoes to fill with that first campaign. It had a lot of heart and it got a lot of attention – in a positive way. However, there were some recurring comments and feedback from citizens, from stakeholders, that the overall campaign was slightly negative.”

With that in mind, the updated campaign is decidedly not negative. The effort’s swagger is fueled in part by Maestro Fresh Wes’s “Stick to Your Vision.” The artist behind the popular track was raised in Scarborough and neighboring North York.

The Scarborough Grit spot follows an employee of SHN as she navigates her daily commute before it transitions to a montage of multi-tasking employees caring for SHN patients. The new chapter has also been paired with an extensive OOH effort.

Scarborough Health Network campaign image
Image used with permission.

Seeing Scarborough on display

For Derek Blais, chief creative officer at Lifelong Crush, the understated but infectious energy of the spot is a reflection of the Scarborough community.

“They have this resiliency, this tenacity, this kind of swagger that you can only describe as a cool and quiet confidence,” he says. “We didn’t want to create a shiny, technologically advanced, super clean feeling to this hospital campaign because that’s not the vibe of Scarborough.”

As he describes the spot, Blais turns to a word — authenticity — that in the context of the Scarborough Grit spot feels entirely fitting.

“We also wanted to make sure that everybody in Scarborough felt that this campaign accurately and authentically represented them and that was especially important in terms of the members of the SHN community – whether it’s patients, doctors or other healthcare workers,” he says. 

Key to having the spot be an authentic representation of SHN was including the community in its production. Lee shares that 250 employees and other members of the SHN community turned out to audition for roles as extras in the ad. 

One scene features families and doctors speaking different languages, which would be unremarkable if not for the fact that the clinical staff in the spot are employed by SHN. 

“They’re real people. They’re not actors. It adds a special layer of having our own community included in the marketing,” he notes.

Real, true energy

The focus on authenticity led to another choice when it came to the production of the spot: shooting it on film. 

“When something is shot on film, whether it’s a photograph or a video, it just feels more real,” Blais says. “If you want to get down into the craft, into the artistry of it, a film camera is capturing more of what the human eye sees in terms of color and light coming in. Whereas digital can sometimes look a little polished, it can look fake. Nothing about Scarborough or SHN, is fake or shiny.”

The intense concern with the look and energy of the spot is all in service of what Lee calls a tonality change, shifting away from a “help me” mentality to a “join us” mindset.

Scarborough Health Network campaign image
Image used with permission.

Blais sees the Scarborough swagger as part of the secret to getting donors to embrace the “join us” call and support the network. 

“When you look at potential donors in Toronto, you are looking at entrepreneurs who may have large sums of money to give and they can relate on a human level to that ‘grit’,” he says. “They can relate to somebody who’s gotten through adversity and come out the other side with this resilience. That happens when they’re able to pull off incredible numbers of surgeries and other incredible feats at SHN. It’s something that you can relate to and think, ‘Look at what these people have done with almost nothing.’” 

Blais refers to the new spot’s tagline when asked to describe the message he hopes that people will take from it.

“We do more than anyone thought possible with less than anyone could imagine. Imagine what we could do with more.” He adds, “That’s a powerful line, because it’s so true. And that helps make people feel emotional about everything and say, ‘How do we help?’”

Lee notes that the campaign is uniquely Scarborough and adds, “Nobody else could have put out something creative like that.”