The Indie List: Zulu Alpha Kilo

From blue chip to start-up clients, growth hasn't changed what makes this shop a winner
To demonstrate the off-road capability of the new Subaru Outback, the campaign pitted it against the ultimate off-road explorer: a mountain goat.

To demonstrate the off-road capability of the new Subaru Outback, the campaign pitted it against the ultimate off-road explorer: a mountain goat.

Many independent agencies are small and even those that aren’t sometimes suffer under that perception simply because they don’t report into a multinational network. The “boutique” label can be a burden if you’re pitching clients with national or international needs. A bit of scale counts for a lot.

This has never been a problem for Zulu Alpha Kilo. In 2008, Bell Canada awarded its business to the scrappy independent when it was just a start-up. Devorah Lithwick, SVP of brand for Bell, says, “Zulu is much bigger than the agency we hired 12 years ago. But their care and dedication to our business has never diminished.”

Whirlpool1KitchenAid's digital billboard detected the ever-changing colour of the CN Tower's lights in real time, converting that info to an XML feed. An algorithm then instructed the board to match the colour of the customizable stand mixer in the ad to the colour of the lights.

Whirlpool’s KitchenAid digital billboard detected the ever-changing hues of the CN Tower’s lights in real time, converting that info to an XML feed. An algorithm then instructed the board to match the customizable stand mixer in the ad to the colour of the lights.

The agency became Subaru Canada’s brand and retail agency in 2019, winning one of the most coveted pitches of the year. When Subaru met with Zulu, it saw a 134-person agency with significant in-house production capabilities (thanks to its growing Zulubot unit) and serious credentials in the category thanks to five years as Audi’s Canadian AOR. The Subaru win and the resulting campaign for its new Outback launch are the latest reminders of the agency’s ability to attract big brands and deliver international-calibre work.

“We were looking for an agency with scale that could also move as fast as a smaller shop,” says Ted Lalka, VP marketing & product management at Subaru. “We found that in Zulu.”

Today, the indie shop has one of the most admired client rosters in the country, from global brands like Whirlpool, Uber and Subaru to iconic Canadian brands like Bell, Tim Hortons and Interac. And Zulu still does amazing work for smaller clients. This is the agency that unravelled a MAGA hat to make a “Welcome to Canada” toque for the Toronto-based apparel brand Peace Collective. It’s also the agency that “Reskinned Queen Street West” for Consonant Skincare’s flagship store launch.

The accolades the shop has received over the past 12 months have been nothing short of spectacular. After winning Ad Age’s Small Agency of the year two years running in 2016 and 2017, Zulu picked up more trophies at this year’s event for two of its campaigns. It won the most Golds of any agency at the CMA Awards and earned the second-most awards globally in Communication Arts. And it saw its Harley-Davidson “Common Ground” series finish in the top five most-effective automotive campaigns globally in the WARC 100 report.

Zulu reimagined the typical tradeshow booth for Interac. Six hundred bands of flowing fabric became an architectural representation of the huge volume of financial data that Interac’s systems manage every day.

Zulu re-imagined the typical tradeshow booth for Interac. Six hundred bands of flowing fabric became an architectural representation of the huge volume of financial data that Interac’s systems manage every day.

On the International front, Zulu was featured as one of the world’s Leading Independent Agencies in Campaign UK. While locally, Deloitte vetted it for a second consecutive year as one of Canada’s Best Managed Companies. In November, the agency was also showcased in the National Post as one of Canada’s most admired corporate cultures of 2019.

Agency president Mike Sutton says, “To be recognized by the business community for culture and management speaks volumes to existing and potential clients.” He points to the growing client roster as further proof of Zulu’s creativity and effectiveness.

For SingleCut Beersmith’s “Big in Japan” IPA, the agency designed innovative packaging and turned it into a “Name that Tune” game using visual cues woven into QR codes.

For SingleCut Beersmith’s “Big in Japan” IPA, the agency designed innovative packaging and turned it into a “Name that Tune” game using visual cues woven into QR codes.

New brands include the Responsible Gaming Council and projects from New York brewery SingleCut Beersmiths, for which Zulu crafted a mobile-enabled label for its Big In Japan IPA. Each label on the new product included a QR code that illustrated the lyrics of a song. The code then connected the cans to a Spotify playlist, making each one a game of Name That Tune.


Avrio Health recently entrusted Zulu with its Senokot laxative brand after it successfully launched its Betadine throat gargle in 2018. That fourth-quarter campaign for the preventative cough treatment drove sales that accounted for 90% of its category’s growth that year. Betadine reached 27.2% market share by the end of Zulu’s campaign.

The agency has seen measured growth despite not participating in RFPs involving spec creative. Last year they even created smarterpitch.com, a site that gives advice to both clients and agencies to improve the pitch process. Zulu founder and CCO/CEO Zak Mroueh said, “We’d rather take that creative pitch energy and apply it to our existing clients’ business.”

Ultimately, Zulu’s success as an independent comes down to a genuine obsession on achieving success for the brands they serve. Mroueh adds, “We report into our clients and no one else.”

CONTACT:
Mike Sutton
President
INeedANewAgency@zulualphakilo.com