Bronze: The Return of Roche

Geoffrey Roche must excel in chaos. Back in 1998, when Lowe Roche was known as Roche Macaulay, the agency managed to rack up its third Agency of the Year title - a record at the time - in spite of mass client and staff defection following the merger with Lowe Worldwide.

Geoffrey Roche must excel in chaos. Back in 1998, when Lowe Roche was known as Roche Macaulay, the agency managed to rack up its third Agency of the Year title – a record at the time – in spite of mass client and staff defection following the merger with Lowe Worldwide.

The past 12 months have been similarly turbulent for the founder/CCO of the Toronto-based agency: President/CEO Brett Marchand left the agency after three years in October 2005 to join Cossette Communication-Marketing; early in the new year, the agency lost the coveted Virgin Mobile account; and a few months later, in August, Capital One, for which it had done such memorable work, also parted ways.

But as has been its curious pattern, amid all the upheaval, the agency has produced some of its best work. And this year, securing Bronze in our AOY competition is further proof of the industry rumblings: Roche is back.

‘It’s about the best time in seven years for the agency,’ Roche himself admits. He points to a recent coup, the hire of Scot Keith just last month, as GM – he was previously group account director at DDB and former boss Frank Palmer’s pick as ‘Generation Next’ in our September issue – as a highlight. (Todd Stanley, who replaced Marchand as president has left for personal reasons.) As well, new client wins include Nokia and the Toronto Star, says Roche, and a handful of other pitches are also in the works. He also raves about the work that Christina Yu, who joined as VP/CD in 2005 and many tout as one of the hottest young talents in the industry, has produced for the shop since her arrival. ‘Christina is just stunning,’ Roche says. ‘She’s done such great work over the past year. She really has, I would argue, put the agency back on the map creatively.’

Coincidentally – or not – the five campaigns submitted in this year’s competition all received the Yu touch. They include creative for beer brand Stella Artois, Capital One’s ‘Hands in Your Pocket,’ the Toronto Zoo’s ‘Jealous Animals,’ o.b’s ‘mighty.small’ and Mackenzie Financial’s ‘Burn Rate.’ It’s a mixed bag of work that married smart media with creative executions, noted one AOY judge – and that not only broke through and had impressive results, but generated plenty of additional momentum with the PR that followed. It’s a result of the close working relationship between Yu, VP strategic planning Janet McNally and Joy Sanguedolce, connection planner, who was hired in September 2005, says Roche.

Despite what may be occurring within the agency, clients credit Roche with ensuring a level of consistency – and never compromising on the creative – no matter what the budget. ‘Lowe is a great partner,’ says Shanna Young, executive director of the Toronto Zoo’s marketing and communications division, which has been a client for five years. She says the agency truly understands the needs, and budget challenges of the zoo, but still manages to create work that works.

‘When Lowe Roche presented it, we just instantly loved it,’ she says of the ‘Jealous Animals’ campaign, which was driven by PR and online tactics, and generated a 7% increase in attendance over last year, despite a rainier-than-average fall and not having a visiting attraction (see page 47). ‘They understand that our budget is tight, but they’re always trying to find ways to maximize the meager dollars we have to spend.’

John Dale, EVP marketing, of Mackenzie Financial, which has been with the agency for five years, says that despite inevitable turnover, Roche has a knack for maintaining a sense of consistency. ‘What I like best in the relationship, and I think it is a strength in Roche, is continuity in senior and creative talent,’ he says.

That, and some killer survival instincts.

CASE STUDIES

CAPITAL ONE

Since 1997, Capital One had built a sizable Canadian customer base, mainly using direct mail and telemarketing to promote its low-interest, customer-centric credit cards. However, research showed that while Canadians were familiar with the name, few had any Capital One brand associations. To continue to build its business, the company needed to build its brand.

Lowe Roche’s key insight came from the dominance of the big five Canadian banks and the fact that otherwise savvy consumers had grown accustomed to accepting exceedingly high credit card interest rates. The result was the ‘Hands in your pocket’ TV campaign, a series of several funny ads highlighting how perverse fees are, symbolized by a ‘banker’ with his hand in a consumer’s pocket whether he’s working out, dancing or dining.

While results are confidential, there has been a substantial increase in the number of people applying for and using the Capital One credit card since the spots launched. Another telling sign of the campaign’s success – it was spoofed on CBC’s Royal Canadian Air Farce and by comedian Rick Mercer whose version was called ‘Knee in my package.’

O.B.

Canadian women weren’t familiar with o.b tampons. And if they were, they questioned whether, given its small size, the product would provide enough protection. Moreover, research had shown they preferred having an applicator – and o.b. was a tampon without one.

Lowe Roche needed to give women a reason to buy the brand. The strategy lay in promoting its small size, underscoring that small is discreet and unintimidating; a real point of difference.

The agency created a multi-touchpoint campaign celebrating the brand’s small size driven by the tagline: ‘mighty.small.’

A supplement entitled: ‘The book of mighty.small,’ was glued into women’s magazines throughout the country. The copy spoke to the power of small things, like little words or simple acts, and featured an o.b. tampon, actual size.

It was supported by other ‘small’ media: small space print ads; a microsite that brought the ‘mighty.small’ manifesto to life with stories of small things that can make a difference; small demos of how well this little tampon protects and the opportunity to try o.b.

Lowe also designed a small and fashionable plastic carrying case for o.b., perfect to fit in ‘even the tiniest purse’ and featured it as a fashion accessory in magazine advertorials.

By early October, the campaign, which launched in September, had resulted in 10,000 requests for samples from the microsite.

STELLA ARTOIS

Lowe Roche continues to create multi-touchpoint work both domestically and abroad for Stella Artois. This year’s iteration included the ‘Masterwork’ spot (which won a Bessie), an outdoor campaign as well as print work to promote the Stella ‘Gold Standard’ establishments, bars where the brand’s nine-step pouring ritual is practiced.

Most recently, the agency designed, built and unveiled the Stella Artois ‘Trap’ in Toronto. A 15-ft.-high guerrilla installation, the moving trap made of wood and metal was engineered to ‘protect’ a chalice of Stella Artois. It is slated to travel to both New York and London. In Canada, the installation is supported by teaser print, coasters, chalk art, and the website unravelthetrap.com.

The agency’s efforts are paying off as sales of Stella Artois continue to grow. Most recent figures have the brand trending at a 20% increase for the year.

TORONTO ZOO

Lowe Roche’s campaign for the Toronto Zoo had to break through the summer activities clutter as well as lure families away from amusement parks. But the zoo’s non-profit budget meant they needed to effectively trigger buzz in the Greater Toronto Area, and unlike in previous years, there was no new visiting attraction.

Following research, the agency learned that people think ordinary animals are not as exciting as zoo animals. The campaign would therefore centre on the jealousy everyday animals like squirrels, cats and pigeons felt towards their more exotic counterparts.

The resulting work was multiplatform, including a 30-second TV spot, print, cinema and a microsite showing jealous animals in action. To bring the campaign to life, the agency staged a pigeon protest, complete with media kits from disgruntled pigeons, which included a pigeon manifesto, footage of the protest and comments from the CEO of the zoo. A blog was also created with footage from the protest and the spot. Hotmail and YouTube were also used to interact with their younger target.

It worked. The buzz created around the city was impressive and included a full-page cover story in the National Post. Online, there were 100,000 hits to jealousanimals.com. Best of all, attendance at the zoo was up over 7% versus summer 2005, which made for another record year.

MACKENZIE INVESTMENTS

Most Canadians struggle to find money to invest. But if they spent more wisely on everyday purchases, both big and small, they’d be surprised to find that the money was actually there. At least that’s what the research Lowe Roche conducted suggested. But how to bring that message home?

Launched in the heart of RRSP season with full-page newspaper, magazine, OOH, online, DM and PR, the agency’s campaign pushed the central idea that by making wise spending choices today and investing the difference, Canadians could benefit in their retirement.

Provocative print ads asked, for example: ‘Can you afford to keep your husband?’ with the answer: ‘Sure, he’s a nice guy. Good with the kids. Snappy dresser. But like all men, he has a weakness: expensive, shiny toys.’ The ad went on to explain how to curb one’s ‘Burn Rate,’ i.e. how quickly one spent money.

The message got through. The media pick-up was an impressive 32.9 million impressions. And Mackenzie’s mutual fund sales for January to March 2006 saw a 74% increase over the same period in 2005.