This Hard-Hitting Ad Uses Sports Advertising Against Itself to Warn of Concussions

'Don't risk everything,' says Rethink work

Go for it! Be the best! Play harder! Just do it! Win! Win! Win!

For years, athletes at all levels have heard such exhortations from coaches, parents, fans, teammates … and marketers, of course.

But going all out on the field carries risks, including the possibility of sustaining serious concussions that can lead to long-term health issues.

Working with Ontario's Ministry of Tourism, Culture & Sports, agency Rethink tackles the issue literally head-on in the minute-long spot below, which focuses on a driven young soccer player in the style of a rah-rah sports-themed commercial: 

In the end, there's just a ball rolling slowly across the grass and a nauseating buzz inside the player's head. It's a far cry from the glorious outcomes we see in spots such as Adidas' "All In" and Nike's "Leave Nothing." (In fairness, those brands aren't pro-concussion, of course, but these are the types of high-octane messages that Rethink had in mind.) 

To craft the spot, Rethink's creative team drew on their personal experiences. For example, copywriter Andrew Chhour suffered at least two sports-related concussions, his first at age 6 or 7 while playing hockey.

"Accidentally or not, I got completely leveled into the boards and lost consciousness," Chhour tells Muse. "I remember waking face up on the ice and skating back to the bench wobbly legged. Play had not stopped. At the time, concussions weren't really a thing. So I'm pretty sure my coaches got me to keep playing the rest of the game because I seemed fine—the exact mentality that our campaign is challenging."

He sustained a second concussion years later during a college varsity wresting match. 

"The symptoms were worse," he says. "I remember vomiting and having blurred vision, and experiencing insanely painful headaches. It's possible I may have suffered more concussions in between, but again, we weren't really looking for it at the time." 

Chhour's experiences helped inform the tone of the campaign, which seeks to raise awareness of a concussion protocol called Rowan's Law. It's named after Rowan Stringer, an Ottawa high school rugby player who died six years ago at age 17 after sustaining multiple concussions.

"We found there is so much pressure on athletes to win at all costs," says Rethink creative director Christina Yu. "The message they hear growing up is shake it off, tough it out, risk it. The idea of re-evaluating the way to talk about sports and how we push athletes was really powerful to us."

In case you didn't catch those borderline fanatical lyrics:

"Ain't gonna stop til' we get to the top
Pushin' the limits it's all that we got
Me and my team put it all on the line
We on the grind, still in our prime
Giving it all then give it some more
Heart like a lion, hearin' me roar
Raisin the bar, we gonna soar
We gonna BOOOOM kick in the door.
I'm doin' whatever it takes
Stopping at nothin', I'm up in your face
Shakin it off, no matter the cost
I'm feelin' the the win, I'm taking it all
I'm at the top, I'm rising above
I'm pavin' the way with the sweat and the blood
I want the gold, gimme the rush. Queen Midas, I got the touch.
I'm pushin I'm pushin I'm pushin!!"

"We wanted you to cheer her on, but start to feel uncomfortable doing it," Yu says of the player in the spot (Ashlee Cambie, appearing in her first commercial). "At a moment of reflection you think, 'I shouldn't be cheering for this.' You want her to push it, and you want her to win—but realize that for her to do so, it's injuring her. The super at the end is constructed the same way. 'Risk everything,' and then the reveal 'Don't' comes in." 

The ad "was initially written to be inner dialogue, but through the editing process we realize the spot worked better if there was a music track that talked about pushing the limits," she adds. "It made it feel more like your typical sports message."

Hopefully, viewers will come away "thinking we need to protect athletes more, and we need to take any head injury seriously," Yu says. "This is why we created a short call to action: 'Hit. Stop. Sit.' "

No athletes or actors were injured in the making of this PSA.

"There was a lot of visual trickery to keep our cast safe," Yu recalls. "We had a stunt coordinator to make sure everybody was safe while executing authentic plays." 

Rethink also designed a Rowan's Law logo (the "Stop" symbol divided into the two sides of a human brain), and a GIF listing the symptoms of concussion: 


Title: The Risk
Client: Ministry of Tourism, Culture & Sports

Agency: Rethink
Creative Director: Christina Yu, Mike Dubrick, Aaron Starkman
Art Director: Zachary Bautista
Writer: Andrew Chhour
Strategist: Sean McDonald
Broadcast Producer (in house): Heather Blom

Production Company: Scouts Honour
Director: Mark Zibert
Editor: Graham Chisholm
Director of photography: Mark Zibert
Line Producer: Rita Popielak
Offline Post Production House: Married to Giants
On-Line:  The Vanity, Sean Cochrane
Grading: Alter Ego, Wade Odlum
Audio House:  Grayson Matthews, Tyson Kuteyi

Account Services: Sarah Riedlinger, Megan Christopher

Jennifer van der Valk, Managing Director, Marketing and Digital Strategy, Cabinet Office, Government of Ontario
Mike Semansky, Director of Communications, Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport of Ontario
Ryan Huber - Senior Manager, Marketing Strategy, Cabinet Office, Government of Ontario
Kristen Polito - Marketing Advisor, Marketing Strategy, Cabinet Office,

Government of Ontario
Lauren McDonald - Director of Marketing, Office of the Premier of Ontario
Claudette Grange - Team Lead, Strategic Communications, Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport of Ontario
Tania Heitshu - Assistant Director, Strategic Communications, Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport of Ontario

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