Evolutionary rise

Evolutionary rise

The unprecedented success of Dove’s ‘Evolution’ spot and the

Self-Esteem Fund have landed Ogilvy’s 47-year-old Toronto shop back in our AOY top three for the first time since they took Silver back in 1992 – when another piece of Dove creative, ‘Litmus Test,’ earned kudos all around.

Our judges loved ‘Evolution’ more than any other individual piece of work submitted this year. AOY judge Craig Redmond, CD at Grey Vancouver, called it ‘probably the most significant event in Canadian advertising history’ given its sweep of two Cannes Grand Prix – and its domination of most ad award shows and top honours out there.

Part of the agency’s success is thanks to its hands-on approach to getting into its clients’ business. In fact, CCO Nancy Vonk takes pride in knowing as much about a product or service as the client’s employees do, to understand what gives it an edge over the competition. ‘Janet [Kestin, her creative partner] and I were really tight with the chemists at Dove,’ Vonk explains. ‘We’d be invited to their houses. Our partnership saw us learning as much technically as a lot of their employees did.’

That collaborative approach has filtered down through the whole agency. Under Vonk and Kestin, who have been at the helm for nine years, there has been a move away from a formal structure of peer review to a process in which seniors and juniors collaborate on ideas and current work is tacked up in the halls to spark conversation. ‘There are a lot of really good minds floating around and people who are especially well-suited to be collaborative,’ says Vonk. ‘It’s a very supportive group.’

It’s also, naturally, a very happy group of late. ‘Honestly, I just can’t believe the smiles as I walk down the hall,’ says Vonk of the agency’s standout year. ‘People are really, really happy.’


Consumer connection

Whether it’s making housecalls with consumers or using the agency staff as ‘one giant focus group,’ Ogilvy takes a

hands-on, in-depth approach to consumer research at the outset of the process – after the brief but before the brainstorm. (Vonk believes agencies shouldn’t research creative ideas, a process that tends to reward the familiar and the average.)

‘Broadly, where I appreciate the research is upfront,’ she says. ‘This is where you tend to get the very best out of research – to help understand the product, the consumers and where everybody stands, and [to] take that into the idea-generation process, but then leave it behind after the ideas are born.’

The agency has adopted what Unilever terms ‘consumer connect,’ an ethnographic approach that involves going into consumers’ homes and talking to them about how they use their clients’ brands, how they might use a competitor’s brand, and how each fits into their day-to-day lives. ‘It’s like those reality TV shows where people don’t seem to pay attention to the camera,’ says Vonk. ‘People quickly lose their inhibitions and just start doing their own thing. If [they] feel comfortable with [you], people are pretty forthcoming, and I think they appreciate being asked about their lives.’

Back in the office, agency and client employees will be polled for feedback and ideas, often as part of the same test group. In some cases this research ends up becoming the creative idea itself, such as the fill-in-the-blanks questionnaires answered by Unilever and Ogilvy employees and their female family members that appeared, un-edited, as Dove advertising in Flare magazine’s 25th-anniversary issue.


There were two objectives behind Ogilvy’s 2006 work on its Dove account: make the Dove

Self-Esteem Fund highly visible, and invite women and their daughters to the workshops taking place across the country over the fall.

To do it, the agency decided to create a series of short online films to expose the negative impact of the beauty culture. Another facet of the execution: use the Internet exclusively. That meant no fixed lengths of 30 or 60 seconds, no expectation of seeing a product and no requirement for the brand name to appear within the first few seconds.

The first film was ‘Daughters,’ which featured young girls and women from Toronto and Halifax speaking frankly about the effect of unrealistic beauty standards in their lives. Next was ‘Evolution,’ a demonstration of the simple truth that models only look like models after hairstylists, make-up artists, lighting guys and retouchers have created the illusion of beauty.

The results are now the stuff of ad history. The workshops sold out. Within two weeks, over two million people had seen the films on the web. ‘Evolution’ appeared globally on talk shows and news programs, including BBC Breakfast, Good Morning America, Today and Ellen. It made the front page of the Toronto Star. Ad Age wrote that the YouTube posting generated three times more responses than the previous year’s Super Bowl commercial.

Today, 10 months later, Dove sales are up and spend is down in Canada. The viral is considered the most successful in history, seen by over 300 million people around the world and with an estimated media value of over $150 million. And the work has also rewritten ad award history: the Cannes ad festival awarded ‘Evolution’ the first-ever double Grand Prix.


The brand has long called itself the ‘real’ mayonnaise, but research for Hellmann’s showed that consumers were cynical about whether that was true, despite the use of eggs, oil and vinegar in the recipe.

Ogilvy’s strategy was to make the Hellmann’s brand stand for ‘real’ by creating a strong association with real, unadulterated foods. The growing interest in rooftop and community gardens across the country provided the perfect avenue to position the brand as a natural advocate for homegrown foods.

The first initiative was to create urban gardens across Canada in, of all places, parking lots. Urbanites received seed packs bearing invitations to enter a contest to win a free plot by submitting an essay online. There were also invitations in newspapers and banner ads. Ogilvy also created the Hellmann’s Urban Garden Fund, which was designed to assist existing community gardens. At every touchpoint the agency reinforced the real story of Hellmann’s – that its recipe is natural, includes Omega 3s, has no trans fats and is low in saturated fat. All communications pointed to Hellmanns.ca, and all signed off with the tagline, ‘Hellmann’s. Eat for Real.’

The results have been overwhelming. Hundreds of Canadians submitted essays, and Hellmanns.ca went from 61 visitors in March to 78,619 in June, after the campaign launched. Visitors spent an average of about 11 minutes on the site. Media coverage has been extensive, yielding 5.4 million media impressions as of July, and YTD shipments are up 25%, the highest growth in the world. From June 10th to July 7th, Hellmann’s base brand sales were up 7%, while the market was down 2%. And Unilever HQ is now interested in using the concept globally.


It’s been a number of years since Hot Wheels used original Canadian-specific creative. With no brief from the client, no budget and no deadline, Ogilvy decided the timing was right for something new.

The agency suggested a strategy shift: Mattel should talk to parents, rather than kids. A campaign should reach out to fathers, not sons, with the idea being to reacquaint men with their inner child and introduce that inner child to their kids.

Given the green light, Ogilvy created images that forced viewers to connect the dots to find the ‘invisible’ car in the ads, like, for example a pair of women’s high-heeled shoes positioned to look like a ramp. In that process, men would reconnect with a time in their lives when anything could serve as a launching pad for their toy cars. The Hot Wheels logo was discreetly placed at the bottom of the ads.

In addition to magazine and poster advertising, the images have been traveling across the country on Mattel’s 18-wheeler truck fleet for almost a year. The agency has also received many ramp ideas from nostalgic dads.

Seems the creative also connected with sentimental judges. The campaign was shortlisted at Cannes and the One Show, and picked up two Bronze statues at the Clios. It also helped pick up more Canadian Hot Wheels business for the agency.


As a response to youth violence in Toronto, taxi driver Tom Rajabzadeh developed his not-for-profit org, Sportslist.ca, to keep at-risk youth in school and encourage them to use their athletic abilities to fund their higher education.

After waiting patiently for members of Ogilvy’s creative team late one night, the Co-op driver asked whether they might be interested in helping him promote it. There was no budget, but they would be given complete creative control.

The team agreed to create a campaign for the student athlete portal that connects talented athletes with scouts, coaches and scholarships to colleges and universities. Ogilvy contacted Frank Hoedl, a favourite photographer of the agency, to chip in.

The result was a series of distinctive posters that wound up in schools, sporting events and online, not to mention being shortlisted at Cannes and featured in Archive magazine.


After the long-running Honeycomb ‘Get What You Want’ campaign, Kraft was looking to evolve the effort with a particular focus on the cereal’s honey factor.

Ogilvy’s solution: a boy raised by bees.

The TV spots, filmed in Jane Goodall-documentary style, introduced bee researcher Barbara Somerville and her discovery: a 12-year-old boy named Bernard. When viewers visit beeboy.org, they find Somerville Research, a bare-bones website where Barbara details her knowledge of bees and showcases the biggest news of her career, Bernard. There is no branding. Kraft agreed to keep The Corporation out of the equation for the launch period so kids could engage in the bee boy story without any turn-off factor. But Honeycomb will eventually appear on the home page as Somerville Research’s official sponsor.

The campaign, which launched in March, is already generating, um, big buzz. Based on high engagement on the site (40,000 hits in the first week alone, and an average visit of six to seven minutes), sightings of kids imitating Bernard’s distinctive buzzing, strong word of mouth and emails sent to Barbara (especially with kids asking if Bernard is real), Kraft is following up on the launch with major investment in more virals, features and contests, as well as TV.

The U.S. may adopt the campaign, and they’re holding this work up to all their agencies as a blueprint of success to be copied.

Headcount: 150 (including Ogilvy Toronto, Ogilvy 1 and Ogilvy Action)

Recent hires: Summer intern Hunter Somerville, who was hired after he came up with the ‘Beeboy’ idea for Honeycomb, among others

New business: From several long-term clients, including Unilever, Kraft and Mattel

Biggest accomplishment: ‘We have set new standards for what agencies can do in delivering creative solutions for our clients,’ says managing director Laurie Young. ‘The virals, the online games and the play are just the beginning.’