Spotted! MSF ships off new campaign

MiC finds out why Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders decked a series of Toronto bus shelters out in mysterious-looking cargo boxes.

Walking down King Street in Toronto yesterday, MiC had a ‘one of these things is not like the other’ moment when a cargo box perched on the roof of a bus shelter caught our eye.

The container was labelled and was stamped ‘Destination: Congo’. Intrigued, MiC called up Rebecca Davies, director of fundraising, Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders (MSF) to find out what the box was all about.

Launched earlier this month, the campaign is promoting the aid organization’s new gift giving/donation website,, she explained. The site allows people to symbolically purchase a real item that MSF uses in the field, such as a cholera kit or even a day of a doctor’s time. Although it is a cash donation to the organization, the goal was to tie donation to a real-world item to provide context for donors, she says.

Developed internally by MSF – with website and box design by Toronto-based Stephen Thomas – the campaign was executed in three phases. The first saw unlabelled boxes placed atop Astral bus shelters in Toronto, complemented by an ad on the transit shelter featuring the URL ‘‘ and an arrow pointing upwards.

The URL featured a blog, authored by the crate, which was turned into a persona for the campaign. In search of his true meaning in life, the crate then spent the second phase of the campaign blogging about his search and building up his friend list on Facebook (currently standing at 195), hinting that his purpose would be revealed on Nov. 15. And on Monday, Nov. 15, his destiny was revealed: he was going to work for the MSF Warehouse and be shipped around the world with life-saving supplies.

For Monday, all the bus-shelter boxes were repainted by Astral with destinations and the website URL. Print ads have also promoted the campaign in Metro‘s Toronto edition and T.O.Night before and after the reveal.

The goal was to take a more radical approach to the promotion, in order to attract the attention of people who are not current donors and may not be familiar with the organization, Davies told MiC.

‘It was a risk,’ she admits. ‘We could have ridden on our own brand name, but we chose to go off-brand completely. We’ll see how it goes…[the unconventional nature of the campaign is] not to minimize the seriousness of the subject matter, that’s for sure.’

Although the campaign was timed to capitalize on the holiday gift-giving season, the MSF Warehouse will be open all year round, Davies says.