Diesel pumps up the volume

When they left school in 1993, Jean-François Bouchard and Philippe Meunier were a cocky pair of advertising wannabes. A bright young freelance creative team, they scoured Montreal in search of someplace to call home - an organization that fit with their...

When they left school in 1993, Jean-François Bouchard and Philippe Meunier were a cocky pair of advertising wannabes.

A bright young freelance creative team, they scoured Montreal in search of someplace to call home – an organization that fit with their notions of what an ad agency should be. And when they failed to find it, they set about building one of their own.

The result is Diesel Marketing, one of the fastest-growing agencies in Quebec. Built on its founders’ belief in integrated communications, Diesel has evolved rapidly from a two-man operation to a shop that, by the beginning of 1999, employed close to 30 people. And now – aided immeasurably by a recent infusion of investment capital – the agency has set about reinventing itself for the new interactive age.

The new, improved Diesel is neither a traditional ad agency nor an interactive agency, says Bouchard. Rather, it’s a brand new model altogether – a kind of hybrid entity that brings together expertise from both sides, throughout the planning process, to create communications that combine mass media and online elements into a seamless whole.

‘It’s very interesting to have around the table a traditional art director who also designs Web projects, with a copywriter, an engineer, an interactive director, an information designer and a planner who’s got a management consulting background – all working on finding a potent communication solution,’ he says.

For an agency grounded in traditional mass advertising, this kind of wholesale transformation is anything but easy. Bouchard, however, says that Diesel’s relative youth helped to ease the process. Most members of the team, he notes, are in their 20s and early 30s.

‘For us, the new consumer and the new economy are the only consumer and the only economy we’ve known,’ Bouchard says.

On the other hand, a little guidance from an older and wiser mentor never hurts. For this reason, the agency recently brought on board Jean Morin – a founder of Cossette Communication-Marketing – as chairman. He serves as a much-valued voice of experience, especially when it comes to the servicing of larger clients.

Another essential ingredient, of course, is cash. Earlier this year, Diesel sold a 20% equity stake to a division of the Caisse de dép`t et placement du Québec, for an undisclosed figure somewhere in the millions. (It’s a big enough sum that Bouchard says he would have lost sleep had it been a bank loan.)

The money allowed Diesel to expand its staff quickly from 30 to 75, with many of the new additions coming in on the digital side. Bouchard says the staff is now split roughly 50-50 between traditional and interactive marketing personnel.

To facilitate the development of new digital tools, the agency has established its own computer lab and been designated an official Microsoft Solutions Provider.

For Copernic Technologies, a Quebec-based high-tech client that markets a meta-search engine, Diesel developed a new application designed to support a ‘viral’ promotion.

Copernic, which has approximately three million users, wanted a campaign that would encourage more people to download its software. So Diesel created a promotion whereby each person who recommended the product to a friend via e-mail would automatically be entered in a contest. The challenge was to design a database program capable of tracking three million e-mails. And the solution was Diesel’s new ‘Viral Engine’ product.

The agency has also spun off a stand-alone research company, called Diesel ThinkTank. This Toronto-based firm, headed by David Saffer, supplies consumer research to support Diesel’s projects – as well as servicing some clients of its own – and provides the agency with a presence outside of Quebec.

A newly launched site for Bell Mobility’s Club Solo prepaid cellular phone service (www.clubsolo.com) is the sort of project for which Diesel hopes to become known in future. The site features an interactive movie that serves to communicate the brand message in an entertaining fashion, and promotes Club Solo’s new one-cent offer.

There are those who question whether a traditional ad agency can successfully remodel itself to operate in the interactive arena. Eugenio Zuniga, chief executive officer of Montreal-based K-OS Multimedia, says that most ad agencies are too steeped in traditional thinking to have any real understanding of how to adapt themselves to the Web.

For his part, Bouchard sees Diesel’s hybrid model as the way of the future, bridging the old and new media worlds.

Both worlds will continue to co-exist, he adds.

Those who dismiss the Internet as a fad are dead wrong, Bouchard says. But those who predict the death of mass media are equally mistaken.

‘I don’t see the role of mass communication changing that much,’ he says. ‘I just believe the language has to evolve, to recognize that consumers no longer want to be sold to. More and more, mass communication will be used to initiate a relationship – but then other forms of communication will take over from there.’

Also in this report:

* Extreme behaviour: Cordon Bleu taps youth market with irreverent approach p.B17

* Expos pitch grassroots love story: Woo cynical fans with winning spirit, community involvement p.B18

From Karen Howe’s dining table: Creativity, COVID and Cannes

ICYMI, The Township's founder gathers the best of the best campaigns and trends so far.

Cannes Base Camp

By Karen Howe

I’m attending Cannes from the glory of my dining room table. There’s not a palm tree in sight, yet inspiration and intel are present in abundance.

Cannes Lions is a global cultural pulse check. The social course correction in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and BLM has delivered far greater diversity in the judging panels as well as the work. And we are all better for it.

I’m proud to say that creativity defeated COVID, which speaks to its power. Great work and big ideas flourished, despite unimaginable odds.

The work from the past two years spans a vast emotional range. From the profundity of Dove’s “Courage is Beautiful” to the hyper exuberance of Burberry’s “Festive,” they are opposite ends of the spectrum, but each answered a need in us.

Take note, the ascendency of gaming cannot be understated. Smart brands have embraced the channel. It makes sense, because gamers participate to meet others around the world, not just to play. And they represent a huge and powerful community. That’s why QSR Wendy’s gamified their iconic gal in RPG’s Feast of Legends.

Burger King sponsored the unknown Stevenage Football Club, transforming the team into online heroes and vaulting BK into the fray at the same time. Once again, the brand embedded itself in culture.

The birth of gaming tourism arrived when Xbox snuggled up to travel guides and created a brilliant baby: a travel guide for gaming worlds. It, too, embedded itself in culture.

From the standpoint of social good, Reporter Without Borders showed how it worked with Mindcraft for its “Uncensored Library” to bypass press censorship, with Minecraft providing a loophole to a space where young people could be educated. It provided youth with a powerful tool to fight oppression: truth.

COVID changed us in unexpected ways. We learned how to pay attention again and there was a notable lack of 30-second commercials. Instead, longer format content thrived. Apple’s WFH was seven minutes long. Entertainment reigned king, so we find ourselves returning to our advertising roots.

Seeing competitive brands form partnerships was one of this year’s other great surprises. The brilliantly simple “Beer Cap Project” by Aguila to reduce binge-drinking saw the brand reach out to competitive beers to join in. Aguila put incentivizing (keyword: free) reminders to drink water, eat food and get home safely on its bottle caps from all sorts of fast food chains, ride-share co’s and H2O brands.

On a personal level, I’m so proud of Canada again this year. Given that it was two years of work from all over the world being judged, even making the Cannes shortlist was an accomplishment. Canada is herding in the Lions in tremendous numbers – and it’s not even over. Fingers are crossed.

KAREN-HOWE-PIC-higher-rez-300x263Karen Howe is a Canadian Cannes Advisory Board Member and founder of The Township Group