5 Eye-Opening Efforts From Some of Toronto’s Leading Brand Stars

Innovative campaigns and videos from Down Syndrome awareness to hip-hop

Toronto’s La Mar Taylor has directed several videos for Toronto rap icon Drake. Getty Images

When it comes to pushing the envelope and striving for huge innovation, Madison Avenue’s got nothing on Toronto. Unexpected, eye-opening approaches abound across efforts for everything from Down Syndrome awareness and soft drinks to tires and hip-hop music.

‘Down Syndrome Answers’

When you want to know about a subject, you ask an expert. That simple notion informed “Down Syndrome Answers,” FCB Toronto’s landmark 2016 campaign for the Canadian Down Syndrome Society. In this particular case, the experts were people with Down Syndrome, and, across 40 videos, they answered commonly Googled questions covering virtually every practical aspect of the genetic disorder. “Just by casting real people with Down Syndrome, we start to dispel some misconceptions about the developmental disability,” FCB co-creative chief Jeff Hilts told Adweek at the time. The work won 10 Cannes Lions and was followed by stirring ads with Down Syndrome folks explaining why, for them and their parents, “Sorry” is a word they never want to hear.


Cossette scored a big-time knockout for SickKids Foundation two years ago with an immensely memorable campaign that portrayed desperately ill youngsters, their families and hospital staff literally girding for battle. The subjects were imbued with power and purpose, cast as boxers, wrestlers and soldiers in a startlingly cinematic two-minute film directed by Mark Zibert. Truly sick stuff in the most positive sense, the effort scored eight Cannes Lions and, along with FCB Toronto’s “Down Syndrome Answers,” set a new standard for Canadian charitable appeals. Lori Davison, SickKids vp of brand strategy and communications, says this show of strength helped boost donations and establish a more muscular tone for the entire cause-marketing category.

Canadian Tire’s ‘Wheels’

When it debuted two summers ago, “Wheels” was part of a three-ad play tied to the Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games. Since then, it has driven into a lane all its own, with more than 250 million unpaid views, surely making it one of the most widely seen single pieces of Canadian media of all time. Crafted by Cleansheet Communications, “Wheels” rolled to global acclaim by capturing the deeper spirit of the Olympics in a neighborhood basketball game. We meet a wheelchair-bound youngster who eagerly joins the action thanks to his pals. They’re shown riding bikes, wagons and other rigs beneath the hoop, inviting their friend to play.

La Mar + The Weeknd + Drake

The Weeknd’s rise to global music superstardom began in earnest in 2011 with House of Balloons, a mixtape with a compelling yet elusive cover image shot by La Mar Taylor, the artist’s longtime friend and creative director. In stark black-and-white, the picture of Taylor’s ex-girlfriend naked in a bathtub, surrounded by balloons, suggested themes The Weeknd would repeatedly explore (and explode) on that release and in mega-hits to come. As it turned out, Taylor had an eye for moving pictures as well, directing several videos for Toronto rap icon Drake, including “Headlines.” That clip creates an artsy, stylish statement about the city and one of its biggest stars.

Pepsi + Gatorade

Sassan Jahan, vp, marketing, PepsiCo Beverages Canada, blows hot and cold—but both approaches worked just fine in recent efforts to build brand. Pepsi’s sunny, silly Snap-It Snapchat lenses turned up the heat of the fun. The temperature dropped precipitously, however, for Gatorade Frost, with Raptors star DeMar DeRozan driving strong to the hoop across a suddenly frozen plain, and Canadian sprinter Andre De Grasse burning shoe leather—even though the track appears to be turning to ice. As for hockey forward Marie-Philip Poulin, she’s used to the chill. So, when her rink morphed into a winter wonderland, she seemed pretty cool with that.

This story first appeared in the June 4, 2018, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.
@DaveGian davegia@hotmail.com David Gianatasio is a longtime contributor to Adweek, where he has been a writer and editor for two decades. Previously serving as Adweek's New England bureau chief and web editor, he remains based in Boston.