Spring is a medium

Rob Young is a founding partner and senior vice-president, planning and research at Toronto-based Harrison, Young, Pesonen & Newell, one of Canada's largest media management operations....

Rob Young is a founding partner and senior vice-president, planning and research at Toronto-based Harrison, Young, Pesonen & Newell, one of Canada’s largest media management operations.

Every once in a while, I find myself experiencing a "media moment."

By "media moment" I mean an occasion when an advertising message interacts so well with a particular medium that it produces a greater impact than if the advertiser had used any other vehicle. Such moments are so rare that they catch seasoned ad veterans, like me, off guard. After all, I’ve spent years cultivating my reputation as a jaded media professional – someone who’s just about impervious to the power of advertising.

When a media moment strikes, I find myself unwittingly playing the role of a consumer – getting nailed by an ad message, linking up with a brand, and then thinking to myself:"Boy, that was good."

So let me tell you about my most recent media moment.

I was walking west along Bloor Street in Toronto to a client meeting on Monday, March 20. I remember the date because it was the first day of spring. The air was soft and the weather was mild – it was great to be outside.

I stopped briefly in front of the Hudson’s Bay Centre at the intersection of Bloor and Yonge and watched a chalk artist at work. She had sketched a red tulip on a white background and she was working up a headline that read "Sayonara, S…" She wasn’t quite finished, so I couldn’t make it out. "Crazy kid," I thought, and off I went to my meeting.

At noon, the meeting was over and I headed back to the office. It was now even milder. The sun was trying to break through the clouds. Spring had definitely arrived. God, it was great to be outside!

To my left, stood a familiar-looking billboard (a 10 by 20 poster, if you’re in the biz). I could see that same red tulip on the same white background I had seen chalked on the sidewalk a little earlier. The headline read: "Sayonara, Slush." The HGTV logo appeared in the lower right-hand corner.

Moments later, I found myself back at the intersection of Yonge and Bloor and I noticed that the "Sayonara, Slush" sidewalk chalk creation had been completed. People were stopping and looking down at the image.

It was an arresting graphic. A red flower on white background, which stood out against the gray sidewalk in the same way that spring was standing out against the last vestiges of gray winter. And then it dawned on me: The sidewalk poster was a horizontal version of the billboard and not a random act of art.

At that moment, I made the connection. Goodbye winter, hello spring, flowers, gardening, home and garden, HGTV, spring programming season. Bingo! Spring was being brought to me by HGTV. The creative and media combined to link the image to the brand quickly and efficiently.

Now, this was not a big media plan, nor was it complex or expensive. But it was a very good media plan, indeed. Which leads me to an obvious question – What exactly are the characteristics of a very good media plan?

Well, timing must be pretty high up on the checklist. In my opinion, timing goes well beyond allocating weight against high demand. Timing can also mean directing the message to the public when the public has precisely the right mind-set. The HGTV media plan built upon that day’s main news event – the arrival of spring.

Place, too, is a key characteristic, and by "place" I don’t mean what city or region the message should run. The HGTV media plan was effective because it delivered the message outside via outdoor. Where else can spring be experienced?

The plan also featured a characteristic I’d never really thought about before – an invitation to participate. It provided the consumer an opportunity to witness and thereby become involved in, the production of the ad. The sidewalk artist was creating a poster before my very eyes – and I couldn’t help but stop and stare. (Come to think of it, I also stop in my tracks every time I see a crew pasting up a new billboard, or filming a TV commercial. Maybe I’m not so jaded, after all.)

And last but not least, I’d have to say being multi-directional is an important component of a very good media plan.

The HGTV message came up from below and down from above. The trick here was organizing the campaign so the multi-directional delivery happened in a short timeframe.

Let’s see. The HGTV plan had great timing, appeared in the right place, invited participation and came at people from several different directions. All the makings of a very good plan, indeed.

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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