#WhatMatters: An Interview with J. Walter Thompson Canada, Toronto

AdForum sits down with J. Walter Thompson Canada, Toronto's VP and Creative Director Ari Elkouby to discuss the agency's involvement with the PFLAG #WhatMatters campaign.

By Sarah Cullen

To celebrate Pride Week, AdForum sat down with J. Walter Thompson Canada, Toronto's VP and Creative Director Ari Elkouby to discuss the fantastic work the agency created for the PFLAG #WhatMatters campaign.


AdForum: What was the intended purpose behind the #WhatMatters campaign? And why was it so important to raise awareness in schools?

Ari: We were tasked with creating a poster campaign with the distinct purpose of ending gender based discrimination in schools. It was to appear in all Toronto District School Board hallways as a reminder to students that: we are all more than our gender identity and sexual orientation.

At the same time, we wanted to encourage all 76,000 middle school and high school students to think about the labels we place on members of the LGBT community.


AdForum: The #WhatMatters campaign targeted school children and teenagers.  What was the biggest challenge in targeting such a sensitive demographic while also grabbing their attention?

Ari: While labels aren’t inherently negative as a means of classifying one’s sexual orientation, they are often used as a form of discrimination and bullying. School hallways are a difficult place to be and even harder for those who are deemed “different”. So having our message in the very environment that members of the LGBT community are often bullied was important in order to intercept and change this negative behavior.

The idea of creating a piece of communication that could change the conversation being had in hallways from ostracization of fellow classmates to one of inclusion was really promising and rewarding. However, getting students to notice our poster amongst the cluttered walls required stopping power and some kind of incentive for them to look up from their smartphones long enough for us to deliver our message. We knew this had to be more than a simple poster if we had any chance of capturing their attention and changing their entrenched behavior.

We asked students to “shed some light on what really matters” by using the flash on their smartphone to illuminate the hidden and deeper meaning behind the sexual orientation labeled on the poster.

Once the poster was photographed and resided on student’s phones, we encourage them to do what they do best which is to share the message with their friends using the hashtag #WhatMatters. This two pronged approach ensured that our message would extend well beyond the walls of the school and into social feeds connecting with even more students and family members.



AdForum: Does PFLAG have a reputation for having ground breaking campaigns; how involved were they in this creative process?

Ari: PFLAG Toronto has a great track record of doing ground-breaking work and were instrumental in the creation of this campaign. Their insight into the role of labels and the abuse labels cause played heavily into our creative execution. In previous years, they’ve done innovative work such as “Raise the Pride”, a twitter controlled Pride flag that would raise or lower based on the sentiment of tweets during Pride Week in Toronto. However, the greatest work they do is in the community with in person support groups which positively impact everyone they meet.


AdForum: How successful was the #WhatMatters campaign? And how has its success been measured? 


Ari: The greatest measurement of success would be an end to gender-based discrimination in schools which is difficult to measure. However, PFLAG Toronto did see an increase in call volume to their support line. Over 1 million impressions in free media were donated by Toronto university campuses to extend the reach of our campaign which was picked up by international news outlets such as Gizmodo and AdWeek. And over 23,000 Twitter impressions were garnered using our hashtag #WhatMatters.