Nova Scotia

Homelessness ad campaign designed to generate double takes

A Halifax-based ad firm has created ads designed to force people to take a second look at what they're seeing.

Non-profit group hopes to raise funds, spark questions about homelessness

A bus shelter advertisement on Victoria Road in Dartmouth, N.S. (David Muir)

Many families gather to make gingerbread houses at this time of year, but a Halifax-based advertising firm is using that holiday tradition to drive home a sombre message.

Instead of gingerbread houses, Arrivals and Departures senior copywriter Shelly Dwyer-Haill has created an ad campaign to sell kits to build icing-covered park benches, cardboard boxes and bus shelters.

The kits aren't real but the message is — not everyone has a home for the holidays.

She said the images were designed to catch the eye of commuters and force them to take a second look.

"You see something that represents what you love about holidays, but then you look at it again and realize now I'm seeing it through the eyes of somebody else's experience entirely," said Dwyer-Haill.

"The whole idea was to replace the icon of a gingerbread house with the icons of homelessness to, hopefully, help people do a double take and think twice about somebody else's experience."

The kits all carry the same warning sticker: "Warmth and safety not included."

Shelly Dwyer-Haill is senior copywriter at Arrivals and Departures, a Halifax-based ad agency. (Shelly Dwyer-Haille)

The idea came to her last fall when stories about homelessness seemed to be everywhere.

"Every time you [turned] on the media or flipped open a newspaper, [there] was just so much talk about the homeless crisis," she said. "I just thought moving into the colder weather, what is homelessness going to look like this winter?"

The firm had worked with Adsum for Women and Children before, so Dwyer-Haill pitched the campaign to the Halifax-based non-profit group. 

Executive director Sheri Lecker was sold almost instantly.

"I liked it," said Lecker. "We did some wordsmithing, but I thought it was a really simple message — help provide shelter, warmth, comfort and joy. That's the central message."

The billboards for Adsum feature icing-covered benches, cardboard boxes and bus shelters — places where people without a home are forced to sleep. (Arrivals + Departures)

Her organization is hoping to raise money as part of the campaign, but Lecker would be just as happy if other groups, like hers, also profited. She said the holidays account for as much as one-third of all donations received by non-profits.

She hoped the bus ads would also raise questions.

"Why do we have people living in a bus shelter or living in a tent or living in a car? Why does that happen in our city? What are the structural and systemic issues that have brought us to this place? And what can we, as citizens, do about it? " 

Lecker said holiday gatherings would be a good time to think about what we have and what others lack.

"We might want to host a conversation with our family or write a letter or get involved, maybe in the new year, volunteer for an organization, or even think differently about the people that you see who are living in tents or on park benches.

"They are our neighbours and we want for them what we may be able to enjoy for ourselves, which is a warm, safe, secure home."

The campaign will run until the end of December.

Canadian Tire has donated money for Adsum to buy the ad space.

Dwyer-Haill was happy Adsum agreed to accept the work she gave them. 

"It feels nice to see your work out there in the world, but it feels extra nice when it's an organization that you know you really believe in," she said. "I just really hope that it gets noticed and does a little bit of good for them."