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Revealing the Hidden Costs of Food with Sid Lee’s Guerilla Stunt


Sid Lee’s Peter Sreckovic, and Syed Hussan of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change discuss the exploitative conditions faced by migrant workers in Canada, and what it took to raise national awareness of this issue, writes LBB’s Josh Neufeldt

Revealing the Hidden Costs of Food with Sid Lee’s Guerilla Stunt

On any given work morning, the thought of ‘what should I have for lunch?’ will probably be in the back of mind. After all, making the right choice when deciding what to eat is imperative. It’s got to be healthy (probably - at least), it needs to give you enough energy to power through the afternoon, and of course, it needs to be tasty. If it ticks off all three boxes, perfect, right? 


Here’s the catch. A large amount of the food eaten across Canada is provided by the backbreaking labour of migrant workers. In fact, on an annual basis, 60,000 seasonal agricultural workers come to the country from the likes of Mexico, Jamaica and other Caribbean countries, with many facing exploitative and unsafe working conditions. Some aren’t  given housing, others receive no medical coverage, and between January 2020 and June 2021, nine migrant agricultural workers died in Ontario alone. It’s a grim piece of information - one that many Canadians might not actually be aware of. 

So, to reveal the secret behind the menus we pick from every day, the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change (MWAC) partnered up with creative agency Sid Lee to create ‘The Secret Menu’. Consisting of covertly installed QR codes in restaurants, bars and food courts across Toronto and Ottawa, this guerilla marketing stunt saw unexpecting diners scan what they expected to be a regular menu, only to find a custom-made menu page that introduced the hidden human cost behind each food and beverage item. Accompanied by a video explaining the problem, the work linked to a petition to push for better migrant rights across the country. 

LBB’s Josh Neufeldt sat down with Sid Lee Toronto’s senior copywriter Peter Sreckovic, and MWAC’s executive director Syed Hussan, to explore how this powerful initiative came to be. 

LBB> This campaign is grounded in statistics about migrant workers and the conditions they face. As such, what was the research process like, and how did the insights factor into the creative process? 

Syed> For us, this campaign is grounded in our member’s stories - ones we know already. This is our daily reality. 

Peter> We did research on the topic before we even started the collaboration. The statistics and news articles we found were shocking, and we knew it was vital that more people know about this issue. Our partners, Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, had an incredible wealth of insight, along with many first-hand stories from migrant workers. 

LBB> Please tell us more about these exploitative conditions. What factors are responsible? 

Syed> Without permanent resident status, migrants are exploited at work, denied healthcare, separated from their families, and face reprisals like eviction, deportation and being banned from the country if they speak up. At the same time, migrants are fighting back and organising for justice and dignity. This campaign is meant to amplify migrant voices to different audiences. 

LBB> This is a sensitive but critical topic of discussion. Given that, what made a guerilla marketing stunt the best creative approach for the task of spreading awareness? 

Peter> The approach to garnering awareness was twofold. First, we wanted to catch people off-guard in a moment where food was on their mind. By using the QR code, we could do this and reach people who otherwise might not be exposed to this issue, or who otherwise might ignore it. 

The second major factor was cost. We had to find a way to spread the message as broadly as possible, without thousands of dollars to purchase media. A guerilla stunt made perfect sense in this way: we couldn’t buy a massive billboard, so instead we went out and tackled the issue with thousands of ‘micro-billboards’. Each QR code became an ad - a message - and while they are weak on their own, when you place thousands of them, they can become really powerful. In the end, this approach also helped spark the interest of news outlets who picked up the campaign and spread the message even further. 

LBB> What is the creative process like when undertaking a guerilla marketing stunt? How did the process differ from creating something like a normal creative spot? 

Peter> It was a very nimble, fluid process. The collaboration between our team and the great people at MWAC was really fantastic and helped drive this campaign to success. Ultimately, with a guerilla campaign like this, people in both organisations end up wearing many different hats, as we looked for creative solutions along the way that would keep costs low and maximise our reach. 

LBB> These QR code menus were covertly installed in various popular restaurants, bars, and other eateries. How many did you install, and what was this process like?

Peter> We installed 3,000 QR code stickers in total! As for the process, it was quite challenging. We would set out, walk into a bar, restaurant, or food court, and find a moment to stick one of the stickers on a table. Then, if possible, we’d move to the next table, and so on. It was certainly a labour of love.

LBB> How did you decide where to install QR codes? What made the places you chose optimal for this campaign? 

Peter> We had a couple of different strategies for where to place these codes, in order to optimise the performance of the campaign. The first tactic was to hit up restaurants with large amounts of foot traffic. In this regard, places like food courts were especially viable. 

The second strategy was to place QR codes in restaurants near Parliament Hill in Ottawa, specifically in order to target members of parliament. 

LBB> The accompanying spot is quite memorable. Please tell us about how it came to life! Where did the footage come from, and what was the editing process like? 

Peter> We wanted to create a spot that carried our message, while doing so with a level of emotion that would match this issue. The footage is a mix of stock footage, real videos from migrant workers in Canada, and footage covertly shot in various locations around Toronto. The talented editors at Sid Lee crafted the video together with shots from all these different sources. 

LBB> The narration from a migrant worker is a standout element. Who provides the voice, and how did you get them involved in this process? 

Peter> This was an idea that MWAC brought forward, and immediately we knew that this was a great way to bring the spot to life. The voice is that of a real migrant worker who MWAC is in touch with. She recorded the voiceover remotely on her phone, and importantly had to remain anonymous (her name in the video is an alias) in order to avoid potential repercussions from her employers.

LBB> Please tell us a bit more about physically developing the secret menu website. What was this process like? Is there anything you’d like to share about the secret menu? 

Peter> The website was developed in-house at Sid Lee by our digital team. It was a close collaboration between the creative team in Toronto, the digital team in Montreal, and MWAC. With the website, we really wanted to make it look like a menu page at first glance, while also highlighting our QR code aesthetic and giving space for the stories to take centre-stage. 

LBB> What challenges have you faced during this project? How did you overcome them? 

Peter> Overall, the campaign was remarkably smooth. The main challenges came down to budget and logistics, but this also inspired the creative direction that we took, as keeping costs low was at the very heart of the idea. 

Syed> We found that distribution of the stickers and engagement with them was a lot less than we had hoped for, but ultimately, more of a media buzz was created, which garnered mainstream media attention and resulted in more people watching the spot. 

To this end, our intention was to get people who engaged to feel like they had a stake in making a difference. However, some of the feedback we received was actually people wanting to know where they could eat or buy food from while supporting fairer working conditions. This shows us that the campaign seemed to land in the area of individual consumption, rather than systematic change - something we tried to solve for through our media comments. 

LBB> And how can Canadians join the fight and push for systemic change?

Syed> Please sign the petition by Migrant Rights Network at 

Aside from that, if you’re interested in MWAC, we are a membership-based body consisting of migrants in agriculture, fishing, healthcare, care work, as well as current and former international students. We are a democratic organisation, which means decisions are made by and implemented by migrants themselves. We are not advocates or service providers - we are migrants organising for justice. 

LBB> Is there anything you’d like to add? 

Peter> At Sid Lee, our mantra is ‘Create Work That Matters’, and this project really epitomises that. We even had other organisations across Canada reaching out to MWAC in order to get their hands on some Secret Menu QR codes that they could use in their own cities. All in all, we were happy to join MWAC in the journey for this campaign, and to see a small fraction of the  amazing things they do. 

As a final note, we’d just like to add that this issue is still very much ongoing. We encourage people to visit and sign the petition - ensuring a future where the people who grow your food are treated fairly. 

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Sid Lee, Thu, 20 Apr 2023 16:36:24 GMT