Fewer levels aids communication

In this special report, Strategy asked a number of prominent advertising agency executives from B.C. and Alberta to tell us what makes Western advertising distinctive.Each was asked to cite specific examples of Western advertising that, to them, distinguished Western-developed campaigns from...

In this special report, Strategy asked a number of prominent advertising agency executives from B.C. and Alberta to tell us what makes Western advertising distinctive.

Each was asked to cite specific examples of Western advertising that, to them, distinguished Western-developed campaigns from those in the East.

We wanted to know whether there were common elements of style or theme and, in turn, what that said about the Western consumer, the Western media and Western advertising agencies.

We also asked our contributors to consider whether there was a connection between the highly publicized advertising coming out of the U.S. Pacific Northwest and the work that is coming out of Western Canada.

Finally, and perhaps most significantly, we asked them how they operate.

We wanted to know what an Eastern client could expect to find in a Western ad agency that could not be found elsewhere in the country.

Contributors were free to cite their own work, or that of other shops, to make their case.

Dear Editor:

I will give you the complete answer upfront (size of market) and then indulge myself by taking a few hundred words to explain.

Vancouver is a small market and the clients tend to be smaller.

As a result, we, the agencies, are confronted with a much smaller hierarchy on the client side, and they, in turn, do not get to deal with four or five layers of agency types.

More often than not, a senior agency person deals with a single client who is sufficiently senior to make all the decisions necessary. And what a joy this can be when the client has intelligence and a sense of humor.


Immigrant (from other parts of Canada) workers on both sides of the fence sometimes have trouble adjusting to this; the lack of numbers on either side causes them to believe something is missing in the sophistication department.

In fact, all that is missing is the large number of people needed to create one of those endless meetings that go round and round.

To be fair though, we have less need of such hierarchical meetings because we do not have the type of accounts that seem to need them.

There are few packaged foods accounts here, and so we are free of the rigid structure they bring to bear on their business. We benefit creatively from the consequent freedom from committees of lower-echelon people picking our work to death before the real decision-makers get to see it.

The absence of layers on the agency side is of great value to the clients.

They get to deal with the people who create the work, and are able to hear first-hand how they arrived at their conclusions without all the caveats from layers of account service and management people.

The same principle applies to the client’s dealings with media and other departments within the agency.

I believe that because of the relatively small size of the market, creative people are usually working here in Vancouver because they have made a lifestyle choice.

Consequently, there is less peer pressure and less inclination to jump on any executional bandwagon that drifts by.

Top-flight creatives here do not spend much time navel-gazing, or looking over their shoulder to see what Freddie down the street did last week.

Rather they are trying to get a brilliant idea produced within the client’s budget. And our budgets are much smaller.

But there is a benefit to smaller budgets.

It becomes almost impossible to hide behind big tracks and flashy cinematography from some big-name director. Stripped of their camouflage, the creative people have to rely on the big idea.

Kokanee, Chevron, and our work for Ikea all relied on the big idea with relatively small budgets to bring them to air. The concept is king.

(I hope our friends at Ikea have found someone in Geoffrey Roche who can portray the Ikea concept and philosophy as well as we did while they were based out here.)


As to the reasons for Western advertising being more open and daring, I have to say upfront that, like Eastern advertising, most of it is dreck.

Only the best of Western advertising could be described as being in any way different, and that is due to what I said previously about clients and agencies dealing at the top levels without layers of bureaucrats getting in the way.

Another less provable reason might be that the West Coast lifestyle and climate tend to attract free spirits who are much less inclined to work all night and weekends.

Range of interests

They have a greater range of interests and passions than just advertising and they do not consider networking as a serious recreational activity.

People here are generally less conformist and are more receptive to ideas from other disciplines and geographic areas.

As our creative director, Elizabeth Dawson, puts it: ‘There’s a whole world out there, and it doesn’t begin and end in Toronto.’

As a result, we use the McCann system to get reels from around the world and use these insights into other cultures to bring freshness to our own work.

Also, and I hate to rub this in with the majority of your readership, life is more relaxed and easy-going here and living well is not much of a struggle.

Any non-Westerner who reads that as ‘They don’t work hard out there’ has just made a huge error. We work just as hard but, again, due to lack of layers and a more informal environment, we just get more done in less time with less fuss.

It is certainly not my intention to set up an East-West fight here, but simply to point out that differences in size, structure and personality all lead to the creation of different advertising.

Consequently, although this office enjoys a terrific relationship with fellow ‘McCannix’ in Toronto, our natural leanings are to the South.

McCann offices in Vancouver, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego are all members of our Western Crescent group and regularly help each other out with overload work and new business development.

I have left the tastiest bit till last. You asked what an Eastern client could expect from a Western agency.

1) Looser, more creative work.

2) Shorter timelines.

3) No junior people handling the business.

4) Direct involvement with (and of) department heads.

5) Dramatic reduction in production costs.

6) Frequent trips to Canada’s most beautiful city

Bill Negus

Senior vice-president and

general manager

McCann-Erickson Advertising