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

Corner Officer Shifts: Martin Fecko leaves Tangerine

Plus, PointsBet Canada and Thinkific name new marketing leaders as Lole gets a new ecommerce VP.
Corner Office

Martin Fecko departs Tangerine 

After roughly two years of serving as Tangerine’s chief marketing officer, Martin Fecko has a new gig. And this time, the financial services vet will apply his marketing leadership to a new sector, having been named CMO of Dentalcorp.

Fecko will lead the dental network’s end-to-end patient journey, support its overall growth, and work to maximize patient experiences across every touchpoint, the company said in a release.

“Martin’s in-depth expertise in engaging and retaining customers through a digitally enabled experience will be valuable in realizing our vision to be Canada’s most trusted healthcare network,” said Dentalcorp president Guy Amini.

Prior to joining Scotiabank’s digital-only banking brand in late-2019, Fecko was country manager for Intuit Canada and spent 10 years at American Express in consumer and digital marketing.

PointsBet Canada nabs former Bell marketer as it pursues expansion

Dave Rivers has joined PointsBet, an online gaming and sports betting operator, as Canadian VP of marketing.

Rivers joins from Bell, where he was most recently director of brand marketing and sponsorship, responsible for driving the company’s national sponsorship strategy and portfolio. He will report to PointsBet Canada chief commercial officer Nic Sulsky.

According to Sulsky, Rivers will “play a key role as we prepare to launch a business that is unique to our roots here in Canada.”

PointsBet has a significant presence in Australia, where it was founded, and in the U.S. In July, it named Scott Vanderwel, a former SVP at Rogers, as CEO of its Canadian subsidiary, one of several hires aimed at establishing the company’s presence locally.

Thinkific names first CMO among other executive appointments

Vancouver’s Thinkific, a platform for creating, marketing and selling online courses, has appointed Henk Campher as its first chief marketing officer as it invests in marketing to support its growth plans. It has also upped Chris McGuire to the role of chief technology officer and moved former CTO and co-founder Matt Payne into the new role of SVP of innovation.

Co-founder and CEO Greg Smith said Campher and McGuire “will play key roles building high-functioning teams around them and optimizing investment as we continue to carve out an increasingly prominent and differentiated position in the global market.”

Campher joins from Hootsuite, where he was VP of corporate marketing. Before that, he was VP of brand and communications at CRM giant Salesforce.

Lolë names new VP of digital omni-commerce as parent company exits bankruptcy protection

The Montreal-based athletic apparel and accessories retailer has appointed Rob French as VP of digital omni-commerce.

French will lead Lolë’s efforts in consumer insights, supply chain-to-consumer models and online customer journeys. In what is a new role for the company, he will also work to grow the company’s retail brand. He arrives with sixteen years experience in ecommerce, having spent the last few years as chief digital commerce officer at sporting goods retailer Decathlon.

In May 2020, Lolë parent Coalision Inc. filed for bankruptcy protection, citing several years of losses as a result of a downturn in the retail clothing market, increased competition and excess inventory – problems exacerbated by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. At the time of the filing, Coalision was seeking an investor or purchaser of its assets.

It successfully exited bankruptcy protection last year and is currently rebuilding its executive team, according to a spokesperson.