Awards shows address issue of ‘pseudo-clients’

A series of television spots for Vancouver pet supply store Canine Equipment, featuring an elderly man and his homicidal dog, caused quite a stir at last year's Lotus Awards. But it wasn't the sight of splattering blood that got everyone all...

A series of television spots for Vancouver pet supply store Canine Equipment, featuring an elderly man and his homicidal dog, caused quite a stir at last year’s Lotus Awards. But it wasn’t the sight of splattering blood that got everyone all steamed up. It was the fact that most people had never seen the ads before.

The spots – in which the dog variously electrocutes and mutilates his master – did run in the Vancouver market, but in such low weights as to be virtually undetectable. For many in the agency community, the Canine Equipment ‘bad dog’ campaign was yet another example of work being done for what are pejoratively called ‘pseudo-clients.’

Pseudo-clients are those with little or no marketing budget and who have little or no say in the creative direction of the campaign. The agencies that are behind such controversial and low-weight campaigns, many in the industry charge, are less interested in selling the client’s product or building brand awareness than they are in qualifying to win an advertising award.

The issue has caused so much concern that members of the Lotus Award committee are planning to meet this month to discuss whether they should tighten the entry guidelines to prevent such work being submitted.

‘There has been some concern expressed about whether the inclusion of this kind of work takes away from the credibility of the show,’ says Lotus Award chairman Richard Fisher.

It’s an issue with which organizers of awards shows across Canada are grappling. Last year’s Advertising & Design Club Awards book included a denunciation of so-called pseudo-clients by Jamie Way, ADC chairman and creative director of TBWA Chiat/Day. ‘It seems increasingly that only small and trivial accounts are privy to our talents and passions,’ he said at the time. ‘At the end of the day, does an award-winning ad for a tattoo parlour really affect Canada’s reputation and presence in the world (advertising) scene?’

For many in the creative community, work for pseudo-clients is seen as a legitimate way to interest larger clients in the creative possibilities of advertising as well as to promote the creative muscle of the agency. Others, however, see it as merely a convenient way to grab awards.

‘Our clients put us in a box,’ says Alvin Wasserman, president of Vancouver-based Wasserman & Partners Advertising, which has a policy of not courting so-called pseudo-clients. ‘The box includes (the client’s) budget, their positioning, and the demands of the market. The real art of advertising is creating compelling and effective work that breaks out of that box while still respecting the client’s limitations.’

But work for pseudo-clients, or ‘Robin Hood clients’ as Rethink’s Chris Staples prefers to call them, can help to raise the creative bar for every client in an ad agency’s stable. Staples points to his former employer Palmer Jarvis DDB’s award-winning and edgy work for McDonald’s Restaurants of Canada as an example.

‘A lot of the McDonald’s advertising elsewhere is boring, but by seeing the work we were doing for smaller ‘Robin Hood’ clients, McDonald’s got a lot more comfortable with a different kind of ad,’ he says.

While agencies should always be looking for new and unusual ways to help their clients move away from the pack, it’s even more important to do so for small clients who have little or no media budget, Staples says. A campaign for the tiny Kelowna, B.C.-based Tree Brewing Co. featuring a search for the ‘G-spot’ did not even run after it was banned by the B.C. Liquor Control Board, but Staples estimates the campaign received about $200,000 worth of media coverage.

Drafting rules that eliminate pseudo or Robin Hood work from award shows will be difficult, if not impossible, without punishing small clients who cannot afford large media buys, says Fisher.

For Phil Brown, the creator of the Canine Equipment ‘bad dog’ spots, the grumbling is merely a matter of sour grapes.

‘I don’t see the problem,’ he says. ‘We did work for a real client, they do sell pet supplies and the commercials ran.’

In Brief: The Garden picks CDs to take on daily creative leadership

Plus, Naked names two new leaders of its own and Digital Ethos comes to Canada.
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The Garden promotes two creative directors

ACDs Lindsay Eady and Francheska Galloway-Davis have taken over responsibility for day-to-day creative leadership at The Garden after being promoted to creative director roles.

The pair will also help develop the agency’s creative talent, formalizing mentorship and leadership activities they have been doing since joining the agency four and three years ago, respectively. In addition to creating the agency’s internship program, the pair have worked on campaigns for Coinsquare, FitTrack and “The Coke Challenge” campaign for DanceSafe.

Eady and Galloway-Davis will continue to report to The Garden’s co-founder and chief creative officer Shane Ogilvie, who is stepping back from daily creative duties to a more high-level strategic role, allowing him to focus on client relationships and business growth.

Naked Creative Consultancy names new creative and strategy leadership

Toronto’s Naked Creative Consultancy has hired Yasmin Sahni as its new creative director. She is taking over creative leadership from David Kenyon, who has been in the role for 10 years and is moving into a new role as director of strategy, leading the discipline at the agency.

Sahni is coming off of three years as VP and ECD at GTB’s Toronto office, where she managed all the retail, social and service creative for Ford Canada. She previously managed both Vice Media and Vice’s in-house ad agency Virtue.

Peter Shier, president of Naked, says Sahni’s hiring adds to its creative bench and capabilities, as well as a track record of mentorship, a priority for the company. Meanwhile, Kenyon’s move to the strategy side, he says, makes sense because of his deep knowledge of its clients, which have included Ancestry and The Globe and Mail.

Digital Ethos opens a Toronto office

U.K. digital agency Digital Ethos is pursuing new growth opportunities in North America by opening a new office in Toronto.

Though it didn’t disclose them, the agency has begun serving a number of North American clients, and CEO/founder Luke Tobin says the “time was right to invest in a more formal and actual presence in the area.” whose services include design, SEO, pay-per-click, social media, influencer and PR,

This year, the agency’s growth has also allowed it to open an office in Hamburg, Germany, though it also has remote staff working in countries around the world.

Moray Hickes was the company’s first North American hire as VP of sales, tasked with business development in the region.