Marketing Awards Case Studies Small Businesses

Not for lease: how The Local Collective helped one Canadian town take back the high street


By Awards Analyst | writer

November 24, 2021 | 6 min read

The Local Collective won the ‘Best Response to Change’ category at The Drum Awards for Out of Home, with its campaign for Roncesvalles Village BIA. With visually-arresting message in the windows of local shops, this campaign made an important point about the importance of shopping local, especially in after 2020’s lockdowns. Get behind the scenes of this award-winning entry here.

The Local

This town is not for lease.

The Challenge

Already struggling small businesses in the beloved Toronto neighbourhood of Roncesvalles faced a second lockdown at the start of the crucial holiday season.

Small businesses - the lifeblood of our country, accounting for 97.9% of Canadian businesses - have faced horrific financial impacts due to Covid-19, with only 27% reporting normal sales volumes and 52% seeing a further drop in sales as a result of the “second wave”. 54% of small business owners said their “immediate focus is on survival” and 50% were truly worried that they may have to close permanently.

Within this already grim reality, small businesses in Toronto deemed “non-essential” had a second lockdown imposed beginning Nov. 23 – the start of the crucial 5-week Holiday season. With many businesses making up to half of their annual sales during the holidays, and Canadians already planning to spend nearly 20% less this holiday season, independent businesses in Toronto were left scrambling to figure out how they will survive.

Roncesvalles, affectionately called “Roncy” by residents, is a vibrant and beloved neighbourhood with strong character and identity. The Roncesvalles Business Improvement Area knew something had to be done. The objective: to drive Torontonians to shop local from the Roncesvalles high street this holiday season.


Without you buying local this holiday season, your neighbourhood will be forever changed.

Conceptually, Canadians want to support small businesses. 95% believe that supporting them is key to keeping our economy healthy and 82% are worried that their favourite local businesses will close down.

If Canadians were strongly on board with the ‘shop local’ movement, why were local businesses suffering? Experts have noted that actually getting people to prioritize shopping locally over scoring the best deal and the lure of convenience from online giants like Amazon is a very tough sell during the pandemic. Shorter-term concerns, such as financial uncertainty, labour market conditions, and general nervousness were driving behaviour because people aren’t thinking about longer-term impact, such as the character of their neighbourhood, long-term value of their housing, and the fact that small business owners are often their friends and neighbours. We needed to make Torontonians feel personally responsible for the fate of small businesses.

The One-Line Idea

A provocative creative strategy put Torontonians in a dystopian, yet possible, future.

Amazon has seen sales increase nearly 40% during the pandemic and big box stores are up 6-24%, while local businesses suffer. With as many as 225,000 small businesses potentially forced to close in Canada because of the Covid-19 pandemic, we needed to shock people by forcing them to experience the harsh reality that could befall the Roncesvalles high street. Without their support, small businesses that are the heart and soul of the neighbourhood will dwindle and die. We needed to show them what the future could look like based on their behaviour.

The Plan

“Roncesvalles Not For Lease”

On Nov. 24, the second day of the new lockdown, “Roncy” residents woke up to more than 50 store/business windows covered in craft paper, with “For Lease” signs. This arresting display forced shoppers to viscerally experience the reality of the pandemic.

At noon, in a coordinated event, the store owners ripped off the paper to reveal the core campaign message underneath: to resist the lure of Amazon and support independent retailers. We also had federal and provincial members of Parliament attend and speak to the media.

Instagram, including IG stories, was the primary social media channel used to drive awareness and spark conversations.


The reaction from the press was incredible. While a few media outlets were invited to the 12pm event, by 1pm every news agency in the city covered the story and all four National news networks turned it into a National Story because it was such an impactful display of what small businesses across Canada are experiencing. This media impact kept going for 72 hours, with more news teams arriving to cover the event. The CBC ran stories on multiple days and our visuals were used as hero images in publications such as the Financial Post’s own story on the state of small business. News media also added our Instagram content to their own feeds.

In total, 44 press outlets ran stories, leading to more than 255 million impressions and heightened awareness of just how high the stakes are for small businesses because of Covid-19. While approximately 20% of the media coverage was organized, the rest happened organically due to the power of our event’s impact.

Engagement on social showed dramatic increases as well. The BIA’s Instagram account had a +900% increase in post engagements and a nearly +800% increase in growth rate. Each post generated at least +500% the average historical engagement (AHE), with the strongest post achieving +1600% AHE.

This campaign was a winner at The Drum Awards for Out of Home. To find out more, including which competitions are currently open for entry, visit The Drum Awards website.

Marketing Awards Case Studies Small Businesses

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The Local Collective

We are a creative brand that uses local insights to create cultural influence through Collaborations and Collections.

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