`Break the rules’

The west has an attitude, no doubt about it.We're lean, we're clean, and to ensure no rodents cross Alberta's borders from the East, we have a Rat Patrol (no kidding.) It has been operating for decades and Alberta is officially rat-free.We...

The west has an attitude, no doubt about it.

We’re lean, we’re clean, and to ensure no rodents cross Alberta’s borders from the East, we have a Rat Patrol (no kidding.) It has been operating for decades and Alberta is officially rat-free.

We do not guard our Western borders, yet, but we do have a lot of signs up warning Albertans and visitors from La-La-Land to be vigilant about the evil Milfoil weed.

These are the only two truly Albertan rules I know about. No rats and no Milfoil. I like that. They never get in the way of advertising.

Now don’t get me wrong. We have our share of corporate and government don’t-rock-the-boat, row-by-the-rules bureaucrats; it’s just that we have a lot more who are willing and eager to look for fresh ways of approaching problems.

Because out here, you have to break the rules to survive. It really is part of the pioneer spririt that continues to thrive and make up a large part of ‘The Attitude.’

The result is that we are blessed with a lot of clients in Alberta (and some who have come to us from elsewhere) who share ‘The Attitude.’ It is reflected in the advertising that comes from Alberta.

We broke a lot of rules with the Royal Trust five-minute commercial campaign by saying, ‘Why must we have to have a three-year objective? Can’t we achieve things in one week?’ But that wasn’t the first time.

Back in 1983, the Keegstra affair was all over the news. A racist teacher in redneck country. ctv and cbc’s The National ran one of our spots then, but we did not have to buy the time like we did for Royal Trust.

It was the first commercial we ever did, and it broke the rules by showing racism for what it is: one of the ways adults abuse children.

It ran for six weeks and still shows up in recall tests. At the time, it helped change the perception of Albertans and got us a One Show award in New York.

A lesson

And, it taught us a lesson: there is an advantage to breaking the rules, and being too small and too stupid to realize you cannot do something big. ‘The Attitude’ gives you the freedom to succeed.

We broke the rules regarding competitive agency relationships. We teamed up with Ogilvy and Mather/West (note the West) to win the Travel Alberta business and together produced advertising that has garnered numerous international travel awards, even beating out, on occasion, the great Super, Natural campaign from b.c.

One final illustration.

The Alberta Cattle Commission asked us if it was possible to brand Alberta Beef in the eyes of the world. It was impossible, of course. So, we did it.

The Commission had peanuts to spend, but it had guts. We told the commission it did not have to show the product to sell beef and it bought it.We just ran a few billboards and a restaurant promotion during the Olympics featuring three leathery cowboys and a great line.

We ended up with crowds chanting for international television, ‘If it ain’t Alberta, it ain’t beef.’

Hundreds of reporters from all over the world used that line in their coverage. Time magazine ran the billboard within their lead story on the Olympics. Of course there were the usual politically correct letters to the editor about incorrect grammar: ‘If it isn’t Alberta, it isn’t beef’, kind of stuff. Somehow, it ain’t quite the same thing.

All I am trying to say is if you choose to, you can play by your own rules. Canadian advertising can be whatever you and I want it to be.

It does not have to be research-driven. It does not have to be u.s. pick-up. It does not have to be slick or glossy, and it does not have to be big, or secure, or comfortable.

It does not even have to be from Alberta.

But it should have an attitude.

Alan R. Wiggan is president of Hayhurst Communications Alberta in Calgary.