2021 Winner

Canadian Down Syndrome Society

Project Understood


GoldCause/Public Service

SilverData/Tech Strategy

SilverSocial/Conversational Strategy

BronzeCreative Catalyst

With 8 billion voice assistants in use by 2023, the future will be voice-first, but that future doesn’t include people with Down syndrome. Because they have atypical speech, Google’s voice assistant currently misunderstands about one in every three words they speak.

Voice is a revolution, but people with Down syndrome are being left behind. As a small, marginalized community, their needs were never considered. The Canadian Down Syndrome Society (CDSS) had two problems to solve, make voice technology accessible to people with Down syndrome, and to shift perceptions of a stigmatized community.

For people with Down syndrome, access to voice technology is more than just convenience – it’s life-changing independence. The CDSS’s platform strategy is to support the Down syndrome community across specific life moments: determination, birth, childhood. This year they focused on ‘Growing Up’, a stage when today’s young adults with Down syndrome are striving to build more independent lives by living on their own.

Adults with Down syndrome are entirely capable of living independently – they just require more structure and assistance to do so. To live on their own, people with Down syndrome need to develop new strategies to remember to cook, clean, and complete their routines, and they need more support to be safe. Because of their unique needs, voice assistants would be an invaluable tool for adults with Down syndrome, allowing them to set automatic reminders and schedules, build to-do lists, and get easy access to help. All in an effort to become self-sufficient.

By bringing voice utility to people with Down syndrome, they weren’t just giving them the everyday conveniences that most of us enjoy from voice, they were actually giving them the tools to lead a more independent life, without depending on their parents.

Improving voice technology wouldn’t be possible without the help of the Down syndrome community. So, they turned to Google, a technology that usually teaches it’s users, and empowered people with Down syndrome to be the ones teaching it. Introducing Project Understood, a campaign that turns people with Down syndrome into Google’s teachers, using their voices to train Google’s speech recognition model to understand them, giving a marginalized community a voice that’s heard and valued and making voice technology more inclusive by including people with Down syndrome in the creation of the solution.

The campaign maintained the CDSS’s creative approach of humanizing people with Down syndrome by letting them advocate for voice technology just like everyone else. But this year’s campaign went a step further, by empowering the community to play an active role in improving their lives. Evolving from awareness and advocacy to giving people with Down syndrome agency, inclusion, and utility - all at once.

The campaign launched during Canadian Down Syndrome Week, with two social videos shedding light on the inaccessibility of voice technology and served as a recruitment tool, mobilizing the community to donate their voice to train Google.

Down syndrome is a tight-knit community on social media, so they targeted the community organically, knowing the more the community engaged, the more the video would be seen by this niche audience. And for the first time, they harnessed the full North American network of Down syndrome community groups, targeting their membership through email and organic social media, who in turn shared with more international groups.

Earned media both amplified the message and changed perceptions of people with Down syndrome by depicting the community in a new light, advocating for their right to live independently and empowered as Google’s teachers. Long-term, the hope is to create a data recognition model that can not only be scaled to other voice platforms, but to also make the voice revolution accessible to the 78 million people around the world with atypical speech.

Project Understood achieved global reach. ROI is incalculable, but on a cost per impression basis, 775,000 impressions per $ spent isn’t bad. Other campaign results include recruiting the community, which earned 826,107 organic reach on Facebook (a 678% increase from the CDSS’s best performing campaign) and 82,995 engagements - with just $1,000 spent in media; 30+ countries and 735 Down syndrome organizations participated and over one million voices were donated to Google’s speech recognition database. In changing public perceptions, their campaign earned 775 million media impressions globally.

Project Understood is making voice technology inclusive for the Down syndrome community. Google and CDSS presented their research at the UN on March 20th, 2020, calling on all technology companies to make voice technology accessible. In the Spring of 2021, Google launched a new beta voice assistant, based on the data they helped capture, showing Project Understood’s long-term impact on a vulnerable community.

Client: Canadian Down Syndrome Society
Chair: Ed Casagrande
Interim Executive Director: Laura LaChance
Marketing & Communications Manager: Kristen Halpen
Board Member: Ben Tarr

Partner : Google

Creative Agency: FCB Canada
Chief Creative Officers: Nancy Crimi-Lamanna & Jeff Hilts
Worldwide Creative Partner, EVP: Fred Levron
Associate Creative Director: Elma Karabegovic
Associate Creative Director: Michael Morelli
Associate Creative Director: Marty Hoefkes
Copywriter: Shannon McCarroll
Copywriter: Jason Soy
Chief Strategy Officer: Shelley Brown
Director of Strategy: Eryn LeMesurier
Director of Strategy: Shelagh Hartford
Strategy Coordinator: Audrey Zink
EVP, General Manager: Tracy Little
VP, Managing Director: Tim Welsh
Group Account Director: Blake Connolly
Account Supervisor: Olivia Selbie
Agency Producers: Sarah Michener/Kristine Lippett
VP of Operations: Shandi Horovitch
Project Manager: Cori Pettit
Director, Product and Technology Solutions: John Sime
EVP, Head of Global Innovation: Kris Hoet

PR: Shannon Stephaniuk, Glossy

Production Company: Fuelcontent
Director: Scott Drucker
Line Producer: Sarah Michener
Director of Photography: Scott Drucker & Chet Tilokani
Camera Operator: Scott Drucker & Chet Tilokani
Audio: Nicolas Field
Hair & Make-Up: Neil Silverman
Photographer: Cassidy Clemmer

Editing House: Outsider Editorial
Editor: John Gallagher/Michael Barker
Editorial Assistant: Scott Edwards
Executive Producer: Kristina Anzlinger
Transfer Facility: Alter Ego
Colourist: Eric Whipp
Online Facility: Alter Ego
VFX Artist: Eric Perrella
Alter Ego Producer: Caitlin Schooley-Groneveldt
Music House: Grayson Matthews
Music Track Director: Mark Dominic
Engineer: Vlad Nikolic
Audio Producer: Kelly McCluskey

Speech Pathologist: Amanda Cotton

Website design: Bliss Interactive
Kris Van Wallendael
Julie Post
Dao Tran

Have questions? Need help?
Contact Rowan Traynor at 1-416-408-2300 x213 or rtraynor@brunico.com.