IDEA Competition Winner 2021

IDEA Competition Winner 2021

Cheekbone Beauty's mission to inspire Indigenous peoples

The ICA's IDEA Competition promotes inclusivity and diversity in Canada. Indigenous-owned cosmetics brand Cheekbone Beauty has achieved great success since winning the first contest.

The Institute of Canadian Agencies launched its Inclusivity, Diversity & Equity in Advertising (IDEA) competition in 2021.

Each year, the contest recognizes an IDEA communications initiative that drives positive industry standards and inclusive ideas. The winner receives a prize of $1 million in media budget, courtesy of Bell Media.

In 2021, the winning campaign from Cheekbone Beauty, the Indigenous-owned and sustainable Canadian cosmetics company, showcased the importance of Indigenous participation in Canada. Winning the IDEA competition helped to propel the brand on a successful growth journey that is still ongoing in 2024.

The winning campaign

Cheekbone was founded to help Indigenous youth "feel seen" in the beauty industry, where this group is notoriously under-represented. In 2021, Cheekbone had reached a major milestone in the trajectory of the company with the impending launch of the brand at The brand needed to appeal to all Sephora shoppers, to stand up to the fierce beauty category competition but without diluting its essence.

Sid Lee, the creative agency launched in Canada in 1993, developed "Right the Story" as a campaign to deliver on these objectives for Cheekbone Beauty. The bold nature of the agency's thinking helped Cheekbone to win the IDEA contest and use the $1 million prize to take awareness to the next level.

The main thrust of the campaign was to reclaim the narrative surrounding Indigenous peoples in the media. But there was a commercial imperative too. To grow, Cheekbone needed to find a way to appeal to a large mass audience, without diluting its voice, while also looking to stand out in the sustainable beauty category as a brand that empowers and celebrates Indigenous Youth. A successful launch on the Sephora platform was critical, as well as engendering pride amongst the Indigenous community.

A bold statement

"Right the Story" emerged as a powerful platform on which to challenge stereotypes and under-representation by amplifying the voices of unsung Indigenous heroes. It was a bold statement about representation on all fronts, both on-camera and behind the scenes. 

Rather than featuring professional models, the campaign highlighted the success and stories of Indigenous activists from across Canada. The film was shot in the Yukon by a 95% Indigenous crew and directed by Mohawk visual storyteller Shaunoh. 

The powerful voiceover showcased a series of excerpts from "Unsilent," a poem written and voiced by poet Zoey Roy, and the music featured “War Cry Movement I” by Juno-nominated Indigenous cellist and composer, Cris Derksen.

Sephora played a key role in taking the idea through to a fully realized campaign by contributing $150,000 to the production of the content. Due to the IDEA competition funding, the film aired nationally through Bell Media. A first for a Canadian Indigenous-founded and owned beauty company.

Following the launch on Sephora in September 2021, the campaign exposure helped Cheekbone Beauty to achieve extended distribution across Sephora's flagship brick and mortar stores across Canada.

Jenn Harper, Founder and CEO of Cheekbone Beauty credited the IDEA Competition with helping the brand to "reach a larger global audience, especially young Indigenous people.”

Focus on sustainability 

Since the award-winning campaign, Cheekbone Beauty has worked with Sid Lee on new campaigns to accelerate its growth. One was centered on sustainability and saw the agency work with the Cheekbone team to develop new product packaging to fit Sephora’s guidelines. But it also reflected the brand's focus on authentic Indigenous storytelling and commitment to clean beauty products and vegan cosmetics. 

The agency achieved the new look and feel through a series of design and immersion workshops, and the creation of a social media playbook to boost Cheekbone's performance marketing strategy.

This sustainability drive was followed by the "Glossed Over" campaign, which sought to raise awareness that more than 100 Indigenous communities in Canada don’t have access to clean drinking water. Some have been without it for decades. But this issue has been largely ignored by politicians and the public. “I want people to understand just how much this is still happening: that it’s not a thing of the past,” said Jenn Harper.

To achieve this awareness, Cheekbone developed Glossed Over, a lip gloss collection using contaminated water sourced from Indigenous communities in Canada. 

The set featured three variants: E.coli Kiss; Mercury Shimmer; and Luscious Lead. Packaging deceptively followed beauty codes, placing the product in a luxury black box with a striking rainbow-coloured pattern drawing from Indigenous designs and sent out to unsuspecting beauty influencers and politicians. Upon opening the box they were confronted with the issue: "If you wouldn’t put contaminated lip gloss to your lips, why should Indigenous people have to put contaminated water to theirs?"

Raising awareness - and donations

While the contaminated lip gloss never actually touched the lips of influencers and the Canadian public, Sid Lee worked with Cheekbone Beauty and Sephora to ensure all proceeds from Cheekbone sales in the month of June 2022 were donated to Water First - a non-profit that helps facilitate clean water in Indigenous communities.

Glossed Over raised over $45,000 for clean water in Canada. This money was subsequently used by Water First to train over 400 Indigenous youth to become certified water treatment plant operators, allowing them to begin to take matters into their own hands and correct this issue that has been ignored for so long.

Having launched in more than 600 JCPenney stores across the United States in 2023, Cheekbone Beauty is now looking at expansion into other international markets - including New Zealand, Australia, and South America.

There's no doubt that Cheekbone Beauty's continued success lies not only in great product and communications but also in its commitment to make a positive difference to the lives of Indigenous people and the environment in which the live. 

The ICA's IDEA Competition was the catalyst for the success of Cheekbone's inclusive approach to marketing and we're proud to have played a big part in its success story.