SickKids VS Ad #fail

I conscientiously avoided watching SickKids VS: Undeniable, the latest promo for the Hospital for Sick Children (aka SickKids). This morning, the ad popped up during my morning broadcasting.

I cried more than I thought I would. The commercial struck me profoundly and not in a good way.

Let me be clear: because of Torran’s hydrocephalus, SickKids saved his life on more than one occasion (and for the hole that was in his heart, if you count the advice given by their cardiologist when Torran was still in the NICU at Mt. Sinai). They may yet have to do it again. The hospital is certainly worthy of donations and public support.

However, I find their latest advertising disturbing.

I sat on my angst for several hours, unsure of whether or not to share my dismay at this particular marketing strategy. Let’s face it, that’s what fundraising is: marketing for a good cause.

I didn’t hate it entirely. The flipping of a racing motorbike to a child to riding a tricycle was a brilliant representation of children’s imagination. I liked the edit of the girl in a wheelchair doing physio that cuts away to an anime character wearing a shirt that says, “Believe in Yourself” doing combat moves.

However, I did not need to see a child’s heart stop and the family’s horrified reaction (even if, for the purpose of making the commercial nicer, the child is shocked back to life). I do not need to be reminded of my child’s own brush with death (and potential future brush) when he’s in his PJs eating breakfast.

That face was my face, and that my pain, and I work damn hard at containing that hurt every day… and my child came home. What about parents whose child died? Why do you think they want to experience that trigger satisfy your fundraising?

Here’s what is missing from SickKids VS: Undeniable Commercial

The commercial doesn’t show what it’s truly like to be a family in the hospital. Why not emphasize why kids need distraction materials like play-doh that can’t be re-used between patients, or the extra cost of topical analgesic before being poked with a needle? Simple convinces like sheets and meals for parents who room in with their child is an expense that is worthy of donation.

Maybe reality isn’t dramatic enough.

Going to the hospital is not an exciting adventure for kids. There’s nothing remotely sexy about it, despite the gritty, pop-culture appeal of the commercial. The clinic my son attends often have toys missing parts, or games that are incomplete. To me, SickKids feels like any other hospital, except with brighter colours and more frequent visits from clowns and therapy dogs if you happen to be admitted.

The Demands of Being Strong

SickKids is haunted by it’s name, the Victorian label of “sick” that they can’t get rid of, even though concepts in health and wellness have changed.

“Sick isn’t weak” is the first message of the video. I get what SickKids Foundation is trying to say with the “stronger than” concept, but the only strength I saw in the video related to violence, armies, and weapons.

Do those visuals apply to things that cannot be fixed? Torran will never be “strong enough” to “win” against his medical and developmental problems. He will always have them, and for the longest time, he will struggle to fit into the neurotypical / physical typical world.

In fact, to be honest, I don’t know if he’ll ever fit in. Where’s his sexy music and superhero costume for being “brave” enough to go to school and not have any friends because he can’t identify with his peers? His autism is not something that can be “fixed,” and it’s wrong of the hospital to suggest otherwise.


This is strength.

What weapon could Torran wield that would give him back his missing brain tissue, or give him back his liver? None.

Most of the children and actors in the commercial are “TV friendly” in appearance. Where are the children I’ve seen in the halls who have noticeable facial and physical differences? Their strength lies in facing an intolerant world every day.

I’m glad I’m not the only one who feels this way. Louise Kinross very poignantly said, “We don’t need to buck ourselves up with flashing neon lights that say: “Sick isn’t weak.” For one, who ever said that patients and families were weak? And for two, what is wrong with weak? Weak just means vulnerable. It’s who we humans are.”

Some days, I’m so tired of being “strong.” I settle for with “coping.” I’m sure Torran will feel that he doesn’t want to be a good fighter when his life gets interrupted by yet another brain surgery.

Finally, the SickKids Vs: Undeniable ad implies that “stronger” children will overcome the things that comprise the normality of their life. In other words, their as it is is not good enough. Our family’s “stronger than” is that we take Torran’s pain and struggle, and we do everything in our power to help him cope.

He doesn’t forget his challenges. When Torran get’s poked with a needle, he cries. When he sees the CT scanner, he panics. He doesn’t put on some kind of invincible armor. It hurts him every single time. One day, he’ll feel the pain of isolation.

Yes, I call my son my Wee Hero, not because I want him to be some kind of soldier, but because his innate drive to live helped him to survive more medical trauma in the first months of his life than some people will ever encounter.

I know not everyone will agree with me. Some people will look at the high production value of the commercial and feel empowered. That’s great. I hope it empowers you enough to donate. As I said earlier, the hospital and the work it does deserves your support.

SickKids: don’t show me a girl standing on top of rusted and beaten up wheelchairs.

Show me children with severe cleft lip enjoying ice cream, amputees rock climbing, and children in wheelchairs dancing. Make a video of a child with autism showing his class how to enjoy the infinite rotations of a puffed up dandelion head, or children having a conversation in sign language to a friend with cochlear implants.

Stop comparing children whose every day life is medically and/or developmentally atypical to that of a “normal” childhood and telling my son has to fight more than he already has.

[edit: here is the official branding commentary from SickKids]