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Why a Canadian Health Centre is Rallying Residents to Fundraise by Reminding of the Joys of Living Wild


The Garden’s Chris Lihou, Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre Foundation’s Adrienne Clarke and director Clay Stang discuss creating a healthcare campaign based on the outdoors, and the struggles of filming rock jumping in October, writes LBB’s Josh Neufeldt

Why a Canadian Health Centre is Rallying Residents to Fundraise by Reminding of the Joys of Living Wild

In Ontario, one of the most beautiful regions of the province is Simcoe-Muskoka. There - away from the urban landscapes of Toronto or Ottawa - the air is fresh, the people are lovely, and the proximity of the great outdoors makes everything from polar bear dips to mountain biking accessible. That is, of course, if you’re in good enough health to partake. This is an insight that the Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre (RVH) Foundation is well aware of, serving as a vital resource for the health of the region’s residents. And, to better their service offerings, earlier this year they launched an $100 million fundraising effort - the largest in Simcoe-Muskoka history. 

Because an ambitious appeal deserved an equally ambitious campaign, Toronto agency The Garden (having won the assignment earlier in 2022) released ‘Keep Life Wild’, which, rather than focusing on medical fundraising imagery one might expect to see for such a campaign, seeks to celebrate the region’s collective desire to live a full and healthy life by showcasing activities ranging from rock jumping to biking through the forest. 

In fact, the only overt acknowledgement of healthcare comes at the end of the dialogue-free spot, which is when a concerned-looking woman can be seen breathing heavily after a bike ride, before the shot transitions to her continuing to breathe while being examined by one of the RVH’s medical staff. 

To learn more, LBB’s Josh Neufeldt sat down with The Garden senior copywriter Chris Lihou, RVH VP marketing and donor experience Adrienne Clarke and spot director Clay Stang - discussing how the campaign came to life, and the importance of keeping life wild. 

LBB> What was the brief you gave The Garden like, and why were they the right agency for the job?

Adrienne> We had a unique challenge. Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre (RVH), while acting as Barrie’s local hospital, also provides specialised care for cancer, stroke, cardiac, trauma, and youth and child mental health to people across Simcoe-Muskoka. In fact, more than 50% of our patients are from outside Barrie - everywhere from Collingwood to Orillia, and Midland to Muskoka. And, as more people and families make their home in the region (in fact, our population is projected to almost double in 20 years), we need to expand. We have an ambitious plan to double the size of our current site and build an entire new healthcare facility in Innisfil. 

It will take everyone in the region to raise the support we need for the expansion. Whether you are a long-time resident, a cottager, or you’ve just moved here, RVH is at the heart of healthcare in our region. But, if you haven’t had any care at RVH, you may not realise the role we play and how important it is not just for the health of you and your family, but also for the capacity of your local hospital. 

So, the challenge for The Garden was to distil all of that, and figure out how we get all the people of Simcoe-Muskoka to give to RVH by helping them see the critical role we play in their healthcare. That’s no easy task.

As it turns out, that’s what The Garden is made for and what brings out their best; the most gnarly of challenges with the most impossible of goals. Before they were even confirmed as our agency, they dug into getting to know our region, the people who live here, and what makes us and this place we call home so unique. They didn’t carry an unconscious idea that they knew us already or what mattered. They proved themselves throughout this experience to be scrappy, humble, imaginative, bold, and the right kind of partner to push us just far enough outside our comfort zone to create the best kind of results.

LBB> This $100 million fundraising effort is the largest in Simcoe-Muskoka history. Please tell us more about it!

Adrienne> We’ve had tremendous success in previous fundraising campaigns that have brought to the community our ‘Child and Youth’ mental health program, our regional cardiac program, and have helped build our ‘Simcoe-Muskoka Regional Cancer Program’. Our community is exceedingly generous and steps up every time, without question. But the scale and size of this campaign is more than anyone in the region has taken on. We’re building a hospital of the future and that is going to take the time, talent, and generosity of the whole region to make it happen. 

Thus far, the community has already shown that they are behind us and are going to rise to the challenge. We’ve already raised more than $30 million towards our goal! 

LBB> The creative approach is based on the insight that Simcoe-Muskoka is a one-of-a-kind place to live in Ontario, and avoids heavy fixation on medical subject matter. Why was this the way you wanted to handle this campaign?

Chris> Through our strategic development and discussions with the team at RVH, we learned just how proud people in Simcoe-Muskoka are of their unique way of life - one that’s tied closely to the nature on their doorstep. However, to them, it’s more than just outdoor activity, it's a ‘wild’ spirit of traditions they follow and things they rally behind. Knowing that their lifestyle was such a big part of their identity, we felt it would be powerful to show them how that can all be taken away without great healthcare. You can’t live your best life without your health. For us, celebrating good health and a life well-lived felt like a fresh take on a genre that typically focuses on illness and the fight against it. 

Adrienne> We didn’t go in thinking that this was the direction we wanted to take. Believe me, we tossed around some more traditional ideas that involved all the things you’d expect to see in a healthcare campaign. But, we knew two things. Firstly, we wanted to connect people with an energising - maybe even surprising - message. And secondly, we wanted to focus on what healthcare is really about: getting you healthy, and helping you stay that way so you can live a good life. It’s not just about sickness.

LBB> Characterising the area with action shots of all the possible outdoor activities is super fun. How did you choose what to show, and in general, why was a dialogue-free spot the best way to deliver this message?

Chris> Our partnership with RVH really helped inform the kinds of activities and locales we should show. They know the area and the people so well, right down to what cliff jumping areas locals go to on the weekends. Feeling authentic to the region was our main goal. Because we wanted to show such a range of activities and locations, and to capture that fast-paced, high-energy feeling of ‘wild’ living, we knew early on dialogue wouldn’t be the right fit, nor add to the story. Much like a music video, the powerful alchemy of sound, imagery and editing says it all. And for anyone who lives in the area – it would be instantly relatable. 

LBB> There’s a few sneaky references to healthcare in the spot, such as a close-up shot of a scar above a man’s heart. How did you go about weaving these into the project in a subtle but memorable way?

Chris> We wanted to avoid the spot becoming a montage of action shots with a twist ending. So, we needed an anchor point and a story arc of sorts. For us, touching on patients who had gone through a health problem and come out the other side stronger felt like a natural solution. As such, we developed characters that showed - in both subtle and more overt ways - the positive side of a healthcare journey. They were back living the ‘wild’ lives they loved. And when the spot ends with a mountain biker in the hospital with a health concern, you feel that she too will be back out there again like the others. It was a nice way to come full circle. 

Adrienne> Our input from the beginning was that we needed to be sure we could always connect the images people were seeing and the words they were reading to healthcare, and more specifically, to RVH. The Garden (in particular, our creative team of Shane Ogilvie, Erin Edwards, Cam Hopkins and Chris Lihou) worked with us to do that in a clever and memorable way. Beyond the images, we also had thumb-stoppable headlines like ‘Less wait lists. More bucket lists’. This headline, along with our call to action, was an easy get and circled viewers back to not only one of the issues we’re facing (wait times) and how you can help (donate to help RVH grow), but also what it will mean for the community! 

LBB> The spot is directed by Clay Stang. What made him the right director for the job?

Chris> Clay has a long-standing relationship with The Garden, so we knew his work well and trusted his vision. He comes from a photography background, so his attention to composition is superb. We knew we had to use a primarily natural light and hand-held camera – something he has a lot of experience with – in order to best document subjects in their natural state. His eye and his collaborative attitude are two big reasons we decided to partner with him on this spot. 

LBB> Clay, what was the script for this campaign like, and why was this something you were interested in?

Clay> It's kind of a funny story. I was at a party and was talking with Cam (the AD), and he said ‘We’ve got a script that we think you would be perfect for, I’ll send it to you tomorrow!’. He was really excited about it, which was infectious. After a few drinks, he broke down and told me all about it, which led to us spending the next hour talking about ‘wild’ visuals and transitions. Every once a while throughout the evening, one of us would turn to the other and say, ‘Oh what about this?’.

LBB> How did you collaborate to build out the look and feel of the film?

Chris> We looked at a lot of handheld, naturalistic work by directors like Paul Greengrass, and work by photographers of action sports. We wanted to find a style that was both cinematic and raw and energetic. Clay brought lots of references in that vein and worked with us and the director of photography (Kris Belchevski) to develop a nimble shooting approach that was beautiful photographically, but also full of momentum and intimacy. 

Clay> Because the spot was about maintaining your health so you can be ‘wild’, we initially leaned heavily into the concept of ‘wildness’ and focused on the extremes. We always knew that the mountain biker was going to be our main thread, but as we dug more into the spot, we quickly recognised that we needed more human connection. That’s when things really started to click. It was all about finding that balance between living ‘wild’ while maintaining a real human connection.

LBB> How does shooting a campaign which focuses on portraying an area as beautiful compare to a standard ad campaign?

Clay> There is no doubt that where we were shooting is beautiful. It was so beautiful in fact, that during our location scouting, it made me question why I live in downtown Toronto and not in these incredible places instead. It may sound contrived, but I really find so much beauty in all kinds of spaces - whether it's creating studio sets or looking for the right natural environment. For this campaign, it was a challenge to limit how many locations we shot in a day. There were so many options but only so much time, which kept our producers on their toes.

LBB> How long did it take to shoot, and how did it go?

Clay> We were committed to representing the region that the hospital serves, but we only had the budget for two jam-packed shooting days. Because of this, and the fact that we wanted to capture such a wide and vast area (not just Barrie), our biggest challenge was getting from location to location without eating up too much of our day. 

For the winter shots we used stock footage, but we were very selective on what stock was used, as the landscape had to feel authentic to the area. All in all, it was all about planning so that there wasn't a second lost in the day.

LBB> There’s a number of great action shots, such as the guy jumping off the rocks. How did you achieve these visuals, and did you have to shoot in a special way to capture them?

Chris> Specifically, the cliff jumping scene happened in October, but was shot to look like it was summer. We shot at seven in the morning, in what was more than a little chilly weather. The actor put on a brave face, but could only handle two jumps into the frigid lake before calling it quits. 

Clay> First off, you have to find a great DP, and we certainly did with Kris Belchevski. Right from the first conversation with Chris (writer) and Cam (AD), we knew this spot had to have energy and constant movement. I’m not sure if Kris even brought a tripod - he barely used an easy rig, if at all. Everything was handheld, even the last shot in the hospital. I’ve learned over the years to go in with a very specific plan, but I also need to be open to changing things up on the day. It’s important for me to be collaborative. I work with amazingly talented people who all bring something to the table, so to not acknowledge that would be misguided.

LBB> When it came to aesthetics, look and feel, what were your main aims and ambitions, and how did you achieve them through lighting and colour.

Clay> In some spots, you want all the scenes to have a similar colour palette, film grain, and lighting. But on this shoot, we embraced the uniqueness of each setting. For some scenes we would give a bit more grain so that it didn’t look like the other footage. In the case of lighting, it was all about making it as natural as possible. I didn’t want to feel the lighting, as I wanted the focus to be more about the people and their environments.

LBB> The music fits the spot perfectly. How did you work with SNDWRx to find the right track for the job?

Chris> Didier Tovel and the team at SNDWRx were amazing collaborators. We knew we wanted something with an edge - with a bit of a punk spirit - but weren’t sure what form or genre that would take. Didier explored everything from rock to hip hop, to outlaw country and ambient sounds made from wild animals. When we heard the track we ended up going with, we said ‘this is it!’. It was the right balance of energy and swagger.

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

Adrienne> The biggest challenge really was the timelines. We knew we had something special, and we wanted to give it everything we had and do what we envisioned. Unfortunately, we were tasked with winnowing those down to what we knew we could do in the timelines we had, while also seeking to maintain the energy and awesomeness of the idea in order to inspire our audiences. I feel a little bleary-eyed after the pace we kept, but so very proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish and what this could mean for all of us in Simcoe-Muskoka. 

Clay> Beyond showering in the dark because of a power outage at five in the morning at our hotel on our first day of shooting, the cliff jump was a mountain of a challenge. We had an ambitious shooting schedule and finding a cliff that was not exceedingly far from our other locations was tricky… actually, it was almost impossible. Kailey (our line producer) and I took it upon ourselves to find something. This spot was about being ‘wild’, so a three foot rock jump was not going to cut it. After a few hours of driving around and knocking on doors, we headed down a dirt road with location in mind. We just kept driving until we finally found the perfect cliff, but sadly, it was on the other side of the water. We were feeling a little defeated. 

However, I’ve always relied on my intuition, and on our way back we passed a number of cottages. One in particular really stood out to me. We walked up to a gentleman enjoying an afternoon beer by the fire, and after a short conversation he said ‘I have a boat, I’ll take you to that spot’. Bruce Armstrong saved the day! He was so generous, not only with his time but he was willing to help out in any way that he could. That’s what I love about this job, it gives me the privilege to work with and meet awesome people, and this one had them all.

LBB> Do you have any memorable lessons learned from the making of this new campaign?

Chris> When you’re showcasing a way of life, be authentic to that way of life. It’s the only way you can truly honour it. There were times we felt like we could cut corners – to ease the burden on production – by showing something that was similar to a locale but not exact. But, as our friends at RVH reminded us, people up here know what colour the bark is on a random stump on a random trail, and they’ll call you out on it, so don’t try and fake it. 

Adrienne> Don’t try and do it in seven months! But also, at the same time, seven months is not an impossible timeline when you have an exceedingly strong, dedicated partner who gives it their all, never compromises, and grinds right alongside you from day one to launch day and beyond.

LBB> What has the initial response been like, and why was this the right time for the campaign?

Chris> From what we can tell, the response has been really positive. ‘Keep Life Wild’ has a sentiment and an attitude that has resonated with people from the area in a big way. We’re very happy so far.

Adrienne> Unbelievable! We’ve been overwhelmed by the feedback we’ve been getting from people. The campaign struck a chord with people and made them feel proud - not just of where they live, but of RVH and the role we can play in the future. Like all hospitals, we’ve faced some unimaginable challenges during the pandemic. We still face capacity issues, long wait times (particularly in our ED), and so many people have had to travel outside of the community to receive the specialised care they need. But this campaign represents the hope for what the future will be for us: more beds, more technology, fewer wait times. The kind of care our community needs and deserves, right here in our own backyard. 

In terms of timing, for any non-profit, fall is the busiest fundraising season. We knew we wanted to launch in October so we could capture the momentum of the season and still give ourselves enough runway before December for the idea to take hold and marinate in people’s minds and hearts. This campaign is the platform we will use for the next 10 years, so it needed that time and space to sink into the marrow of the community. We’re getting there, and we will continue to build on it, iterate it, and bring it to life in new and (we hope) exciting ways that keep people engaged and committed to making our expansion plans for RVH a reality. 

LBB> Is there anything you’d like to tell readers about RVH, and how they can support the work you’re doing?

Adrienne> I think I could talk about RVH for a very long time - what makes it unique and so very vital to the health of everyone in the Simcoe-Muskoka region, the incredible team of doctors and nurses who are bedside and doing extraordinary work with compassion and kindness, or how the world-class, lifesaving care provided by RVH means that if, for example, you’re on your dock in Muskoka and you have a heart attack, you are likely going to come to RVH. 

RVH isn’t the only hospital in Simcoe-Muskoka, but it is the only regional health centre. That means we play a significant role in the healthcare system of the region. Because we provide specialised cancer, cardiac, trauma and mental health care, we’re helping to ease capacity issues at your local hospital. This means better healthcare for things like having a baby, broken bones or a child with a fever that won’t go down.

In terms of support, this isn’t about an either/or question when people are considering if they should give to their local hospital or RVH. This is an and/also question. Your support is critical to both, so that we have world-class, leading-edge care right here in our own backyard, so we can keep enjoying everything found in it. Learn more about the work we’re doing, our plans for the future and how you can help at And of course, ‘Stay healthy. Stay wild’.

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The Garden, Wed, 14 Dec 2022 15:47:38 GMT