The Gay Sweater - Campaign for the Canadian Centre for Gender and Diversity

Events, Seasonal and Short-Term (SILVER)

Client Credits: The Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity
Jer Dias - Founder and Director

Agency Credits: Saatchi & Saatchi Canada
Brian Sheppard - Exective Creative Director
Matt Antonello - Group Creative Director, Writer
Joel Arbez - Group Creative Director, Art Director
Shauna Roe - Writer
Rachel Kennedy - Art Director
Michelle Orlando - Head of Production
Rebecca Adams - Producer
Reynard Li - Director
Rob Butterwick - Photography
Philip Rostron (Instil) - Photography
Vicky Lam (Westside) - Photography
Chris Murphy (Relish) - Editor
Dylan O'Donnel - Editor
Ryan Denmark - Editor
Dustin Anstey (RMW) - Music
567 - Post Production
Smith - Colour
TPM Communications - Development
Republic - PR (Canada)
Golin - PR (US and UK)


Business Results Period (Consecutive Months):March, 2015
Start of Advertising/Communication Effort: March 24, 2015
Base Period as a Benchmark: March 2015

a) Overall Assessment

The Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity (CCGSD) is a registered Canadian charity that works to end bullying and discrimination against gay youth, particularly in schools. Through workshops, presentations and other outreach, the CCGSD directly reaches hundreds of thousands of young people each year, engaging them in a valuable dialogue about diversity. 

The marginalization of those who are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) is a society-wide problem. Everywhere, from the mainstream media to the classroom to the workplace, homophopia leads to painful forms of discrimination. At its mildest, this discrimination can leave LGBT people feeling like outsiders. At its worst it can lead to bullying that causes mental distress, physical assaults, and even thoughts of suicide among those being victimized.

The key to ending this discrimination is acceptance. But changing long-held prejudices and behavior is no easy task - the CCGSD knew they had a very large job to do. This was compounded by the fact that they had no budget for the campaign, which needed to start turning back decades of discrimination. Another challenge was that the CCGSD is a very small player on the Canadian charity/cause landscape, being dwarfed in size and budget by everyone from the Canadian Cancer Society to the United Way to World Vision. On two separate lists of top 100 Canadian charities, thee CCGSD (or its forerunner, Jer’s Vision) doesn't even appear1.


b) Resulting Business Objectives

The following business objectives were identified:

1. Generate awareness about the misuse of the word 'gay' and change that behavior. The CCGSD had no budget for formally measuring the impact of the campaign, so conclusions would be drawn by looking at engagement numbers as outlined below.

2. Generate awareness of the CCGSD and its message. This would be achieved through targeted media and influencer outreach. A key objective in this area would be to secure interview opportunities for Jeremy Dias, the CCGSD’s founder and director, with relevant media outlets.

3. Generate wide publicity through PR and earned media. The KPIs for success would include earned media value of $250,000; number of impressions (20 million); and mainstream media mentions with a high quality score (75%) based on the inclusion of the following criteria in the story or article: interview with Jeremy Dias; CCGSD or #TheGaySweater mention; photo or video of the Gay Sweater.

4. Generate strong performance in social media. Social media was another critical communication channel, and performance would be measured through engagement numbers on Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube. Specifically, the social media goals were to generate 10 million impressions on Twitter, 5 million impressions on Facebook, and to achieve 100,000 unpaid video views. It was also hoped that the project would become the subject of influencer blogs and vlogs, to further enhance outreach.

c) Annual Media Budget
$0 - $50,000

d) Geographic Area
Primarily Canada.
Secondarily Global

a) Analysis and Insight

One thing that the CCGSD realized was that the perceptions of LGBT people among those who are straight vary to a dramatic degree. Some people are outright homophobes. Other straights are ambivalent. Other straight people are sympathetic to LGBT issues, but are not advocates.

So, the CCGSD identified one common behaviour they though they could change. And that is how straight people misuse the word ‘gay’.

If you are a straight person, you have probably called something 'gay' at some point to describe that thing in a negative way (ie. 'That movie was so gay' or 'Those shoes are so gay'). It's certainly not used as a compliment. And while it is not always meant to be a demeaning, many straight people use ‘gay’ in the negative as a habit – they don’t even catch themselves doing it. The CCGSD simply wanted to make people think twice about what they were saying.

This behaviour isn’t just limited to conversation between individuals either. ‘That’s so gay’ has become common language to negatively describe things, from everyday conversation, to movies, to internet memes. In fact, cccording to the website, the term ‘so gay’ has been tweeted 9 million times since 2012.2

So the CCGSD decided to use the very fact that the misuse of ‘gay’ is so widespread to its advantage. To get the public to think about how psychologically damaging that language can be on gay people (and gay youth in particular) the CCGSD set out to show how silly calling things ‘gay’ is -  and get people to use 'gay' the right way.


b) Communication Strategy

The CCGSD realized that changing all negative conceptions of gay people is a nearly impossible task. So they identified one thing to change – how straight people use the world ‘gay’ to describe things in a negative way.

This insight led directly to the big, disruptive idea: Create the world’s first and only object that’s okay to call gay… because it’s made of actual gay DNA.

To do this, CCGSD created the world’s first truly gay object – the Gay Sweater, made from gay human hair – and used that as a central symbol to generate media and influencer interest, and start the conversation. This had never been done before, and the uniqueness of the approach led to intense media interest as soon as the campaign launched, allowing the message to reach a broad public. The idea was appropriate for the target in that it was an intriguing way to get them to consider their own behavior, without being judgmental or preachy.

The CCGSD knew that the strangeness of the gay sweater project – and the power of its message - would be disruptive enough to result in significant earned media, PR exposure, and shareability of the content. But this would only happen if enough people saw it and started to proliferate it. In the absence of a media budget, this required a well-planned program of pre-seeding with influencers in both social media and traditional media, thereby creating commentary, conversation, and requests for interviews with CCGSD founder and spokesperson Jer Dias.

a) Media Used

The primary mediums were experiential, PR and online. A series of documentary films about the Gay Sweater were hosted on youtube, and housed on a dedicated microsite. The Gay Sweater launched as an experiential piece during World Mastercard Fashion Week in Toronto. PR was employed to get the project featured in traditional news media channels. Social media was also employed to amplify the launch, direct interested parties to the online films, and fuel conversations on channels like Twitter and Facebook. In addition, the Gay Sweater continues to appear at schools and Pride events nationwide.