Together at last

Wrapped to resemble a sleek, black limousine, a tour bus filled with gamblers speeds west along Toronto's Gardiner Expressway. It passes a billboard with a giant king of clubs playing card that extends an invitation to 'Experience Everything Special.'

Wrapped to resemble a sleek, black limousine, a tour bus filled with gamblers speeds west along Toronto’s Gardiner Expressway. It passes a billboard with a giant king of clubs playing card that extends an invitation to ‘Experience Everything Special.’

Both bus and billboard are part of an aggressive brand awareness campaign that broke in June for Niagara Fallsview, a Marriott hotel, spa and casino in Niagara Falls.

The resort’s iconic face cards popped up all summer in newspaper ads and inserts in Toronto, Niagara Falls, Buffalo and Rochester and on billboards in and near those cities, as well as Pittsburgh and Cleveland. Meanwhile, talking-cartoon versions of the playing cards were featured in three executions of a TV spot. And shuttle buses and directional signage in and around Niagara Falls were festooned with playing card imagery.

The punch and seeming ubiquity of Niagara Fallsview’s campaign,

says its senior marketing director, Aaron Silverberg, are the result of ‘from

the get-go collaboration’ of the resort’s creative and media partners.

It’s a modus operandi that’s gaining increasing traction, according to a number of industry veterans. They say that rather than jockeying for position as lead agency, the savviest creatives and media folks are now coming to the table together in the early stages of client campaigns as equal team players. It’s a trend that’s been somewhat driven by marketers.

And it’s an important advance, says Mark Sherman, CEO of Montreal’s Media Experts, because ‘traditionally, creative [input] came before media. But what often happened was that the media people would then come up from the basement and be dealt a hand of cards they couldn’t play. Television spots might be recommended by creative but there wouldn’t be enough money to do that effectively.

I think it was more of an ego or control issue than an effective way of

serving clients.’

‘The reality is setting in that access to consumers is no longer guaranteed like it was years ago,’ points out Doug Checkeris, president/CEO of Toronto’s MBS media agency. ‘So increasingly media planners are changing their focus to become access planners. And there has to be a great deal more collaboration to create a selling idea that can be applied in a variety of ways.’

Two other factors explain why this kind of team work is happening, says Annette Warring, president of Toronto’s Genesis Media. One is ‘that the media industry has gotten a lot smarter over the last couple of years. We’re getting really creative with new mediums and new ideas and doing innovative programs that are aimed at delivering against specific

business challenges.’

Secondly, says Warring: ‘There’s more recognition of the importance of identifying the right consumer touchpoints and how to communicate to each one. Once that happens, work has to be done to make sure the right message is created for each opportunity. That’s why media is sitting at the table with clients a lot earlier than in the past.’

Which major marketers are buying into this idea? Sears Canada, for one, says Marc Gauvreau, national manager for media services: ‘We bring BBDO and the Media Edge together for brainstorm sessions because we all need to be on the same page…and to understand the whole program, not just parts of it. We like to brief them about what our initiative is, what the goals and objectives are in terms of whether it’s to build awareness, to generate sales or to drive traffic into the stores.’

If the brand campaign for Niagara Fallsview had been planned and executed with creative as the horse and media as the cart, or even vice versa, Silverberg believes it wouldn’t have been as effective in differentiating the resort from other nearby hotels and casinos.

‘We made sure that both BBDO, our creative partner, and the Media Company were in the same room together when I first briefed them on what we wanted to achieve. And things just took off from there.’

Silverberg recalls that both media and creative presented ideas as a team. BBDO contributed four concepts, from which the playing card was chosen. ‘When they’re together in that kind of situation, I think a good idea gets built on and built on by each of the sides…. Then they might debate candidly among themselves, but they need to deliver cohesively as a team.’

The result, he adds, is a much more efficient process. ‘We pulled off this campaign in just 75 days. There’s no way that would have happened on time without this collaboration because there would have been a lot more steps to go through.’ While too early to gauge the impact of the advertising, which launched mid-June, he reports that Web visits are up dramatically over last year. (All communication directs consumers online.)

Reitmans director of marketing Stephanie Bleau also found synergies when her creative agency Taxi Montreal and Media Experts worked alongside each other for the retailer’s ‘Designed for Real Life’ rebranding campaign, which launched last year.

‘Media Experts had been with us for a long time, so they had a lot of knowledge about our customer base and operations. They were able to take that learning and kind of ease Taxi into the scenario…. That saved us a lot of time.’

What might have been lost if the two sides, who often got together independent of Reitmans, hadn’t collaborated in this way? Says Bleau: ‘Sometimes there can be a lack of balance. If you go only with creative genius, sometimes you can lose focus of some tactical or practical aspects. And if you go down the other path [of just following media recommendations], it can be a little bit boring and drab. So I think there’s a certain balance that’s achieved by having the two work together.’

Paul Lavoie, chairman and CCO of Toronto-based Taxi, cites another example of seamless integration involving unrelated agencies.

‘Taxi and Cossette Media created the Nike campaign but you’d never know we were two different agencies. Media and creative have to be working together. Those that do make it happen are doing the best work.’

The latest Nike campaign uses some unique high-impact media executions featuring star players Jerome Iginla and Markus Naslund to drive traffic to nikehockey.ca. These include a 50-ft.-tall Iginla hanging

from a crane, a gigantic 150-ft.-tall billboard in Calgary and a floating billboard in Vancouver Harbour. On the more conventional side, the campaign also includes two 45-second TV spots. (See ‘Creative: Just Do It Big,’ page 24.)

Sometimes campaigns are simply driven by the mutually arrived at insight that the medium should be the message.

One is Axmith McIntyre Wicht’s upcoming pedestrian safety campaign for the Toronto Transit Commission. CD Brian Howlett says that – with artwork covering exterior streetcar doors to depict an exiting child being struck by a car – ‘the medium [of streetcars] makes sense for the message because we’re getting to people right on the street.’

According to Howlett, both media and creative representatives sat down together for the initial briefing from the client and bounced a lot of ideas around. (The two groups are housed under the same roof; see sidebar on page 27.)

‘In this case, it was the creative team that came up with the great idea of using the streetcars themselves to tell the story,’ he explains, adding ‘the City of Toronto is among more and more clients that are catching on to the fact that there are new media vehicles every year and that media can be extremely creative in what we can come up with.’

That has led some marketers to go to media agencies first. ‘I’m seeing a reversal of the historic way in which an advertising or communication program used to be developed,’ confirms M2 Universal’s president Hugh Dow. ‘The more contemporary advertisers are pushing very hard for [first] developing consumer insights, then identifying appropriate communication channels, and then having the creative developed to suit those channels.’

But Sherman believes it’s as wrong for media to lead as the other way around. ‘The best advertising comes from the leveraging of a great idea,’ he explains. ‘So I don’t believe media should come before the big idea or the big idea should come before media. I think they should all be born together around one table.

‘We’re all working to the end of the customer’s ROI and we need to do so, with mutual respect, as a team of generalists, not specialists.’

Agencies live with media

Among the truest believers in from-the-get-go collaboration are agencies that deliberately house creatives and media types under the same roof.

One such is Toronto’s Axmith McIntyre Wicht. Another is Toronto’s john st., whose president/partner Arthur Fleischmann says that, ‘from the day we opened about four years ago, we were just enamored of the idea that a really fantastic creative media planner working with a fantastic creative team can come up with an end product that is so much stronger than if they work in isolation. It’s a real democracy of ideas.’

Fleischmann says that, at joint planning sessions for both Scott Towels and Gay Lea spreadable butter, he ‘can’t remember for sure whether it was one of our creatives or a media person’ whose eureka flash led to successful campaigns for which ‘the where [to put the message] was as important as the what [to say in it].’

Montreal’s Touché PHD chose another way to accomplish the same goal. About two-and-a-half years ago, agency president Alain Desormiers began placing half a dozen of his media people full-time at Montreal-based creative shop Diesel. Desormiers says the two shops worked for ‘mutual clients’ such as Aeroplan, Coppertone, Gaz Métro, Belair Direct and Loto-Québec. His reasoning? ‘What is really needed to get the best output is having the right talent working together. And another important advantage is that we are able to bring clout in terms of [media] buying power, which Diesel does not have on its own.’

Broadcast also drops in

Broadcasters and other media are also taking a seat at the brainstorming table.

Several major marketers have hooked up with Toronto’s Alliance Atlantis Communications since it launched its Synergy Group about two years ago with national sales manager Tracey Taylor McMann in charge. She says her group’s aim is to leverage the assets of AA’s 17 television channels ‘to provide new marketing solutions [such as product integration] to clients to enhance their brand sell.’

The Synergy team produces all these efforts in-house. ‘And we do it hand in hand with agencies like MBS,’ says Taylor McMann. ‘We even help them pitch new business, which is pretty unusual [for a content provider].’

Good examples of what she calls ‘host integration with a brand’ involve implied endorsement by interior design guru Debbie Travis, star of Facelift on HGTV Canada. ‘Just before the big reveal at the end of Facelift episodes, there’s always a frantic clean-up,’ Taylor McMann explains. ‘That presents a very natural, very organic opportunity for crew members to use seven different brands of cleaning products, including P&G’s Bounty paper towels and Swiffer mops and dusters.’

Similarly subtle plans are afoot at AA’s Food Network, where Taylor McMann says Anna Olson, host of Sugar, ‘very naturally’ integrates Pillsbury baking products, Starbucks coffee and Ocean Spray cranberry juice into her recipes. ‘We also worked Revlon products into the Sexy Girl series on Diva and Chrysler Dodge Ram trucks into Holmes on Homes on HGTV.’

In what she calls ‘network integration,’ her Synergy team aligns AA station brands with those of various marketers in commercials. For instance, an ad campaign that appeared on the National Geographic, IFC, Showcase and History channels, simulated typical programming on each respective channel. But then the camera zoomed out to reveal that the images were actually on a Sony television set.

Even outside of the broadcast arena, marketers are working directly with media agencies on creative ideas, adds Annette Warring, president of Genesis Media. In a recent initiative for the Toronto Star, for instance, she says her company, along with media partner IMA, was asked to rev up awareness of the newspaper’s classified ads.

‘We decided to bring the classifieds to life. So we actually purchased items from the Star classifieds that looked like they came from a ’70s rec room – a couch, lamps, tables – and set them up in high-traffic areas in downtown Toronto [including] BCE Place. We listed their selling prices and [had signage saying] ‘selling this stuff could get you a brand new living room set.”