AGF paints its canvas with pure branding message

I was driving west on Bloor Street the other day, headed into downtown Toronto, and I think I did exactly what the creative group wanted me to do. I saw a billboard with a scaffold hanging there in front of it,...

I was driving west on Bloor Street the other day, headed into downtown Toronto, and I think I did exactly what the creative group wanted me to do.

I saw a billboard with a scaffold hanging there in front of it, and I figured it was a paperhanger’s work-in-progress. I also figured, since the billboard was about a hundred feet from Mediacom’s head office, that the workman had better get his gluepot in gear.

Then I looked a little more closely. (I happened to do all this in one exposure, because I’m interested in advertising. I think the average dude would take two or three trips before the penny dropped. That’s OK, it’s a repeat-travel street.)

Anyway, I stopped looking at the main eye-catcher – the scaffold – and I looked at the ad itself. It was for AGF Mutual Funds. It had their slogan ‘EVENTUALLY EVERYONE RETIRES’, but the lettering wasn’t quite complete. ‘Aha,’ said I, brightly. I get it. The guy putting up the billboard retired in the middle of the job.’ Nice.

I like the new AGF campaign a lot – and also, I like it a lot better than its predecessor. (‘My retirement dream is to make retirement commercials.’) That one won a lot of awards, but I always thought it was too much of an in joke to play in Flin Flon, and it kind of wore its cynicism on its sleeve.

The ‘EVENTUALLY EVERYONE RETIRES’ stuff delights me, though. It still pokes fun at those getting on in years, but it does it with warmth instead of a stiletto. They show us our folk heroes – Santa Claus and Spiderman, Gumby and Quasimodo – and I smile to see them struggling with the real-life difficulties of a retirement speech or a sand trap. It also makes me think a little about AGF’s premise. I’m not 26 anymore, and come to think of it, how are my RRSPs?

In a very few years, we’ve seen a major evolution in mutual fund advertising, and I think AGF has the new era right. A dozen years ago, the advertiser pretty much had to start by explaining what a mutual fund was. Then as investor sophistication grew, it became a claim game: we have the best system, we have the best analysts, we have the best service, we have the best performance (yeah, maybe yesterday, but I didn’t own you yesterday, how about tomorrow?), and so forth.

Now we’ve become so flooded by mutual fund claims that I think we’re into a pure branding phase. ‘Lemme see, I need soup, which one do I want, that red-and-white can looks familiar, the name rings a bell, I think I’ll buy Campbell’s.’ ‘Charlie, you’ve suggested I put a few bucks into AGF, I’ve heard of them, they seem like a pretty good company to me (can’t really remember why), sure, I’ll drop in a mil or two.’

Much of the tragically unhip, such as the general public and account executives, would guess that pure brand-building is easier and more fun for the creative guys. After all, you don’t even have to send much of a message. You can play around for the whole 30 seconds, and if you’re really eloquent, maybe you can talk the media department into a sixty for the awards shows.

Wrong. It’s actually easier to build a commercial around a supplied message than it is to paint a blank canvas. And some mutual fund companies have really stumbled recently, trying to do the latter.

Fidelity hired Lily Tomlin, who used to be funny, and paired her with their resident guru, Peter Lynch. It was like the scientist who crossed a sole with a jellyfish, hoping for boneless sole, and got a bony jellyfish. Lynch made Tomlin unfunny and Tomlin made Lynch dumb. They pulled it.

A usually good Toronto agency created an over-the-hill old lady who nattered endlessly about how she made her money by ripping off her husbands. Cut to logo for CI Funds, with some line about how they don’t do it this way. Swing and a miss. They pulled it.

It’s not easy to do what AGF has done, and kudos to them for doing it. Now if they would only make the logo bigger.

(Joke! Joke! Joke!)

John Burghardt’s checkered resumé includes the presidency of a national agency, several films for the Shah’s government in Iran, collaboration with Jim Henson to create the Cookie Monster, and a Cannes Gold Lion. The letterhead of his thriving business now reads ‘strategic planning -creative thinking’. He can be reached by phone at (416) 693-5072, by fax at (416) 693-5100 or by e-mail at

Google launches a campaign about news connections

The search engine is using archival footage to convey what Canadians are interested in.

Google Canada and agency Church + State have produced a new spot informed by research from the search giant that suggests it is a primary connector for Canadians to the news that matters to them – a direct shot across the bow of the legislators presently considering Bill C-18.

In a spot titled “Connecting you to all that’s news,” the search giant harnesses archival footage reflective of many of the issues Canadians care about deeply, including the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, truth and reconciliation and the war in Ukraine, to demonstrate the point that many Canadians turn to Google as a gateway to the information and news they’re seeking.

“From St. John’s to Victoria and everywhere in between, when Canadians want to understand or get updated on the most pressing topics, Google connects them to the news sources that provide it,” says Laura Pearce, head of marketing for Google Canada. “All of us at Google are proud to be that consistent and reliable connection for Canadians to the news they’re searching for.”

In some ways, the goal of the campaign was to tap into the varied emotional responses that single news stories can have with different audiences across the country.

“News may be factual, but how people respond to it can be very emotional,” explains Ron Tite, founder and CCO at Church + State. “Importantly, those emotions aren’t universal. One news story can create completely different reactions from different people in different places. Because of that, we simply wanted to let connecting to news be the focus of this campaign. We worked diligently to license a wide variety of actual news footage that we felt would resonate with Canadians.”

The campaign can be seen as a statement by the search provider on Bill C-18 – the Online News Act – that is currently being deliberated by a parliamentary committee. That legislation seeks to force online platforms such as Meta’s Facebook and Alphabet’s Google to pay news publishers for their content, echoing a similar law passed in Australia in 2021. The Act has drawn sharp rebukes from both companies, with Facebook threatening to ban news sharing on its platform.

Google Canada is not commenting on whether this new campaign is a response to C-18, but it has been public in its criticism of the legislation. In testimony delivered to parliament and shared on its blog, Colin McKay, the company’s head of public policy and government relations, said, “This is a history-making opportunity for Canada to craft world-class legislation that is clear and principled on who it benefits.” However, he noted that C-18 is “not that legislation.”

The campaign launched on Oct. 24 and is running through December across cinema, OLV, OOH, podcast, digital and social. Airfoil handled the broadcast production.