Advertising that is not by the book

What makes Western advertising distinctive and unique? Could it be the mountains? The ocean? Or maybe it is Land's End, the last collecting point for wandering souls in search of a better way.No, after a lot of thought, I know the...

What makes Western advertising distinctive and unique? Could it be the mountains? The ocean? Or maybe it is Land’s End, the last collecting point for wandering souls in search of a better way.

No, after a lot of thought, I know the answer. It’s me. It has got to be. After all, I live here, I write ads… ergo. Well, maybe it is some of the other people, too.

So what makes us distinctive and unique? For one thing, we do not use words like ‘distinctive’ and ‘unique’. Instead, we think of our work as being fresh, alive, vibrant and fun.

In fact, that might be one of the big differences in the West. We tend to be less formalized and less formula-ized. We do not treat advertising in textbook terms. Instead, as a noted Northwest advertising campaign suggests, we just do it.

More openness

Having worked in both markets, I have always felt more comfortable working in the West. There is more of an openness and freedom to try something new or different.

Too often back East, an artificial environment of pressure and tension is created around each job. Adversarial roles between client and agency/account group and creative are constantly being drawn up. That does not exactly encourage an openness in creativity.

Size counts

The size of the agencies and the size of accounts has a great deal to do with this pressure. It seems the bigger the agency and the bigger the client, the more people start to worry about losing the account…or their job. They become guarded.

Out West, there is more of the feeling of everyone working together to come up with the best idea. Hell, we will try concepts out on everyone and take contributions from anyone. Everyone and anyone is welcome to get their two cents or nickel in and add something fresh to the work. (I suppose those who know my work would say I could use even more help.)

I do not believe some of the work we have done for clients would have been possible back East. For example, Kokanee.

Best-kept secret

The concept suggested that Kokanee beer was b.c.’s best-kept secret, and people should keep it to themselves. We featured shots of the bottle facing backwards so you could not read the label; we came up with a password, ‘Okee Dokee,’ to order your Kokanee; we provided paper bags to keep it hidden, and id cards to prove you were born in the Kootenays.

This approach was so counter to mainstream beer advertising at the time that it would never have been accepted by one of the big national brands. It would have been seen as too risky…too different…too unlike what other brands were doing.

No one would have been willing to take the chance. And with so many levels of brand and marketing management to sell through, the campaign would have been altered beyond recognition.

This is what can happen when you have too many layers and each layer has to justify its existence.

Fortunately, in the West, there are fewer existences to justify.


Budgets also affect the look and feel of advertising in the West. They are usually far lower here, so we are forced to think a little harder. We cannot hide behind production values and techniques.

Don’t get me wrong, a big budget can always make a good idea look better, but, too often, dollars are thrown against a job in place of ideas.

It is kind of like The Emperor’s New Clothes, only in this case, you put all the clothes out on parade, but forget to put anyone in them.

Finally, there has always been a more entrepreneurial spirit to the West. People have traditionally moved westward looking for challenges and opportunities.

This feeling is often expressed in our advertising. There is a willingness to break away from accepted norms and try something fresh and new.

Also, we are more likely to be dealing directly with the decision-makers, or at least have access to them earlier in the process. And because they are often entrepreneurs, clients are more accustomed to going out on a limb and taking risks.

That was the case with our ‘Earl’s’ campaign. A talking chicken telling you to ‘Try the beef dishes at Earl’s, but forget the chicken’ would have been a tough sell up the corporate chain of command. But we were dealing directly with Earl himself, and that made all the difference.

Western advertising is finally beginning to be recognized in other parts of the country and that is great. It shows that good, and sometimes great, advertising can come from anywhere.

The days of New York and Toronto being the only centres for advertising have long passed. Head offices and the biggest accounts may still be centred in these markets, but more and more cities and areas are challenging them in the creative arena.

In today’s world, we all have access to sophisticated technological advances which allow us to live wherever we choose and still be as creative as our imaginations and abilities will take us.

I think this bodes well for the entire industry.

Darrel Shee is creative director at Scali McCabe Sloves in Vancouver.