Social media momentum drives success of Sun Life Financial's 'Kick Diabetes' fundraising campaign

Case Study by Marcus Gilroy RGD, Senior Graphic Designer, Corporate Marketing and Communications at Sun Life Financial


This campaign is a philanthropic partnership between three organizations: Sun Life Financial (SLF)the Canadian Football League (CFL) and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF). As a graphic designer in the SLF corporate marketing and communications department, I was approached by management to work with our sponsorship team on a new branding effort to support our company’s fight against diabetes. The campaign would be called ‘Kick Diabetes’ – appropriately titled considering one of our biggest sponsorship partners is the CFL.

All proceeds from Kick Diabetes go to the JDRF, a non-profit organization that improves the lives of diabetics and supports research into finding a cure, developing treatments and increasing awareness about prevention.

I had worked with the sponsorship team in the past and always looked forward to partnering with them – they always have fun projects that allow us to stretch the SLF brand. In 2013 we developed an expansive digital campaign that spread across Facebook and the CFL homepage, and in 2014 we shifted gears with a push across Twitter. We wanted to surpass our previous results – and did we ever!

Each year the campaign is given a small budget, requiring us to lean on our creative ingenuity to promote the cause. With digital media and marketing support from the CFL, we developed an approach to target the large pool of avid sports fans that could be reached through their network. 



The creative development was an internal project, simultaneously managed from a design and communications perspective; the comms team is generally responsible for developing copy and coordinating postings with our external business partners. From concept brainstorming to final launch, we had approximately a month and a half to roll everything out, continuing to provide support as the fundraising results starting coming in. 

I was the sole designer on the initial campaign launch in 2013, and lead designer in 2014, developing most pieces myself and providing art direction to our summer intern, Daniella Vasco Student RGD, who ran with the themes and designed some great supplementary pieces. From an accessibility standpoint, all pieces were optimized to follow best practices for accessible viewing, with high contrast text for legibility on smaller graphics. 


The creative ideation was driven by the excitement and movement in Canadian Football. Research for the project involved looking up sports team logos, pinning down the proper number of laces and painted lines on an official CFL football and seeking inspiration from promotional materials across all sporting platforms.



The project kicked off with a brainstorming meeting with marketing upper-management to discuss logo concepts. We discussed the background of the initiative and I acquired a creative brief. I left the meeting with some specific creative options to explore, primarily looking at typographic solutions within the contours of a football. 


Over the course of a few weeks, I completed a number of vector renderings and pitched ideas to my managers. Initially, we wanted to create a solid emblem in the shape of a football. During many deliberations, we pushed past those ideas for an approach that accentuated the football as a separate graphic element apart from the text. We also experimented with perspective and depth to create type with implied movement. Eventually we decided to forego those options for simpler text solutions that encouraged maximum visibility. The final mockup embraced our corporate yellow in the word ‘Kick’, complemented by clean alignment to frame it up. 


The next phase of the project allowed me to leverage the new logo in digital layouts. Our communication specialists were engaged to provide content for these pieces and our social media team provided the specs and coordinated the postings for all the digital channels.


During approvals, our team always presents preliminary proofs to our senior leaders in brand and marketing. With their sign off, we then share the compositions to an assigned point person representing the business units we’re supporting (in this case, sponsorship and philanthropy). With so many approvers in a large corporate ecosystem, it is vital to strategically funnel all feedback or revisions through one source, while looping in my managers on all correspondence to ensure transparency during the project. 

In 2013, our activation was dependent on a Facebook contest, urging people to donate a ’kick’ on behalf of their favourite CFL team for a chance to win season tickets. SLF matched each 'kick' with a dollar for the team that received the most ‘kicks’.


In 2014, Sun Life raised funds by donating $102 for every field goal made by any CFL team. This approach was visually supported by an active ranking board on the CFL website. We also ran a hugely successful Twitter campaign – donating one dollar for every tweet or re-tweet with the hashtag, #SunLifeKickDiabetes.




The initial development phases went swimmingly, with the expected number of revisions that occur when a project must be approved by so many stakeholders. That being said, it's always a trial to see some of your favourite concepts removed from the running after justifying your design decisions. Whether I’m sharing my concepts in a pitch presentation or emailing a document to multiple stakeholders, I always reinforce my ideas with a verbal or written rationale. These can provide descriptive details that clients may not consider when looking at the visual on its own, speaking to elements of contrast, alignment, focus and hierarchy. I also use rationales as a vehicle to highlight the benefits of my preferred concept and downplay the other options; a strategy with a patchy track record thus far. I’ve grown a thick skin over the years – it’s the nature of our business.


While this campaign ran very smooth in the grand scheme of things, we did have a few challenges due to the rapidly-changing nature of social media and the notoriously unapologetic online audience, who wield their computer keyboards with wild autonomy. When posting the campaign graphics online, it became important for our media specialists to keep an eye out for untoward comments and handle them with delicate care, keeping in mind that responses could be seen by countless possible viewers.


Another challenge arose when responses on our social media platforms began to skyrocket. When our hashtag became a trending topic it was a great boost for the campaign, but also meant I had to be very reactionary with updating the ranking board as we continued to climb in numbers. We wanted to maintain the momentum created by the trending hashtag, which meant driving the campaign with updated content that would highlight new results, showcasing our rapid climb. 



In 2013 the campaign raised $40,199, and in 2014 that number more than doubled to reach a total of $101,000 – we hit it out of the park! Aside from the fantastic results and the large donations to the JDRF, we were able to raise the online profile for Sun Life, elevate our reputation as a philanthropic organization and increase social media activation on all fronts.


The sponsorship team has been overjoyed with the results of the campaign collateral; the excitement associated with the football theme translated into design work that resonated with CFL fans and married perfectly with the interactivity of the social media approach. The campaign also won a 2014 IFCA Award of Excellence under Awareness Campaigns.



Designer Takeaways

  1. Always request consolidated feedback. On a project with so many hands in the pot, it’s essential to assign one point person who will reach out to all the approvers and amalgamate any revisions for you.
  2. Designing for sports is not about being subtle or understated – go big, go bold or go home.
  3. The message is just as important as the visual. Clean type treatments can make a huge impact, without having to rely on overly produced graphics.


Client Takeaways

  1. Bring your thinking cap. Designers want to hear all of your ideas and suggestions. The more we see your vision, the more likely we will be to hit the mark from the get go.
  2. Keep an open mind if a designer presents a concept that is ‘outside the box’. While a good designer will always provide options that align with the brief, sometimes they can come out of left field with an alternate solution that could be more successful in reaching the goals of the project.
  3. See designers as your partners in crime; we both want to create something awesome that will meet the project objectives and deliver a successful result. 


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