DDB stands tall (and comes heavy)

Last year's AOY champ may have fallen to third place, but don't make the mistake of underestimating DDB Canada. The Vancouver-based agency has missed the top three only twice in a dozen years, and you can bet it'll always be a contender - and that you've got to be brave to get in the ring with larger-than-life chairman/CEO Frank Palmer.

Last year’s AOY champ may have fallen to third place, but don’t make the mistake of underestimating DDB Canada. The Vancouver-based agency has missed the top three only twice in a dozen years, and you can bet it’ll always be a contender – and that you’ve got to be brave to get in the ring with larger-than-life chairman/CEO Frank Palmer.

Despite the economic slowdown, DDB Canada stayed steady on its feet this year. The far-sighted Palmer began tightening its collective belt six months ago and has made some shrewd and timely investments, including creating DDB Echology to help businesses reach their sustainability expectations. In fact, Palmer maintains that investing in projects like Echology and Radar (which launched last year) actually makes DDB better suited to survive.

‘Radar hits the target where we need to on social media,’ he says, ‘and potential clients are always asking where we stand on sustainability. ‘In the future, we’re going to turn up the dial on Echology so we can get known in that space, and we’re also looking at a growth strategy in markets we don’t serve as well as we could.’

And DDB’s obsession with big ideas remains front and centre, evident in work like ‘Elevator’ and ‘Metal Shop,’ two Bronze Lion-winning spots for Pacific Blue Cross that portray people talking about insurance (but not health insurance) while engaging in life-threatening activities. Says AOY judge Rob Assimakopoulos: ‘The ads landed right on the insight, and there was effective use of humour to carry the message.’

And the agency has picked up a slew of new accounts to make up for the loss of Dell Canada and Boston Pizza.

‘We’ve had an outstanding year,’ says Palmer, who’s determined to keep fighting the good fight. ‘I’m going to hit the competition hard, when they’re not expecting it. Tough times don’t last, but tough companies do. And this is a time for DDB to get tough.’


Home gym: Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, Edmonton, Victoria

Entourage: 325 deep

Season highlights: New business wins included Blockbuster Canada, Canadian Tourism Commission, Diageo, FedEx, Wonderbra, Wrigley and Pier 1 Imports, among others. Launched DDB Echology to help clients create sustainability programs, and the James Lee Foundation, a charity that provides scholarships for new creative talent in honour of the late DDB Vancouver ACD. Won a Bronze Lion at Cannes for its Pacific Blue Cross work. Named one of the best small and medium-sized employers in Canada by Queen’s University School of Business.

Defeats: National president Rob Whittle retired after 26 years. There are no plans to replace him. Lost the Dell Canada and Boston Pizza businesses.

Management moves: 78 new talent hires, including Amber Bezahler, MD of Tribal DDB Vancouver, Len Wise, MD of Karacters in Toronto, and Andrew McCartney, MD at Tribal DDB Toronto.

Training regimen: Tough and smart, full of bluster and focused on the Big Idea.

Licensing and merchandising: The DDB family includes Kid Think (youth marketing), Public Relations, Tribal (interactive), Karacters Design Group, Rapp Collins (direct), Radar (social media) and Echology (sustainability). DDB Worldwide came in second in Cannes’ Network of the Year competition.


Research showed that while most Londoners wanted to visit Canada someday, they didn’t have a compelling reason to come now. The CTC needed to increase bookings and create a sense of urgency in a jaded British audience.

The first stage of DDB’s resulting campaign was a ‘Call of the Wild’ teaser, in which wolf images were projected onto London attractions like the Tate Modern museum and Covent Garden and recordings of loons were piped into key landmarks, reinforced by a tongue-in-cheek PR push about a loon on the loose in the city.

The teaser ended with an invitation to ‘Step into Canada’ at Canary Wharf, where an impressive glass structure dubbed the CTC Experiential Dome was divided into four themed areas – the Maritimes, Quebec, Ontario and Alberta. The Ontario section transported visitors to Niagara with the sounds of crickets and birds, painted murals and product samples. Visitors were pointed to canada.travel for information and a chance to win a Canadian adventure for two.

The campaign was supported with massive OOH displays at nine London tube stations, as well as inserts in Metro, the free commuter newspaper, and an online campaign delivering 22 million rich media impressions in two months.

Actual trip bookings from the U.K. rose by 3%, translating into $34 million in tourism revenue. The number of consumers likely to take a trip to Canada in the next year increased 8% from 2007. The campaign received press coverage, and the dome itself was featured on BBC1′s The Apprentice.


In a country that prides itself on universal health care, many B.C. consumers didn’t understand the need for individual health insurance. Research showed that most people had no idea what was covered in their provincial or corporate health plan. The challenge was to communicate to consumers that they need to understand their health coverage (or lack thereof) before it’s too late.

DDB soon realized that people in B.C. had a fairly good understanding of almost every type of consumer insurance except health insurance. The creative for Pacific Blue Cross juxtaposed the importance and fragility of consumers’ health with their obsession with material goods.

In the TV executions, characters were depicted tinkering under a moving elevator or inhaling noxious fumes while discussing the details of their car insurance or TV warranty. Direct mail and transit shelter executions showed emergency situations in which people saved their possessions before themselves. Shelf-talkers were purchased in retail stores around products used to protect possessions (bike locks, car wax, BBQ covers) posing the question, ‘Do we take better care of our things than we take care of ourselves?’

The campaign resulted in a dramatic increase in inquiries, contracts and revenue. The campaign delivered a 90% increase in calls – shattering the 22% target. The response translated into a 10% increase in contracts over the previous year, and revenues increased by 13%. The campaign won awards at the One Show and Cannes, among others.


Sun-Rype juice has no artificial colours, preservatives or added sugar – an approach that made it a category leader in Western Canada. But it was still relatively unknown in the East.

To establish Sun-Rype as a national brand, DDB started with the packaging. Research showed that the traditional 1L tetra-pack was unknown in Eastern Canada, where plastic rules. After much research, a transparent 1.36L bottle was designed and produced, showcasing the product and standing out on shelves.

DDB then reached out to the time-starved, multiple-role-playing mom. Because she felt bombarded with food information when trying to make healthy choices, DDB stressed Sun-Rype’s offering of 100% pure juice.

The message was literally spelled out in fruit. TV used stop-motion animations of fruit and up-tempo, feel-good tunes. The 100% fruit theme rolled out online and in magazines, transit shelter ads and OOH video boards. A first-of-its-kind freestanding interactive installation designed for shopping malls used a camera to transform everything in its field of vision into fruit, ‘fruitifying’ everyone and everything in real time on a 65′ LCD screen.

The new packaging translated into an impressive increase in market share. In the 12 weeks that the campaign ran, Sun-Rype’s Eastern market share more than doubled. Mall owners were so impressed with the crowds of people gathering around the interactive installation that they increased the number of weeks booked. The campaign received over 13,000 views on YouTube and has been posted on hundreds of blogs worldwide.


After five years of decline, the Subaru Forester’s share of the small Japanese SUV segment had slipped to 7%. Seen as old and tired and significantly outspent by the competition, Subaru needed to use the 2009 model to revitalize the franchise and attract a new, younger consumer.

Research showed that people in this segment had started families and were being more practical and responsible – but still wanted to feel playful and young. Subaru also needed to play up its Japanese roots to compete with the CRV and RAV4.

DDB carved out a definitive position to show that the Forester has everything consumers want – in the biggest way possible. The integrated campaign launched on television with a sexy car wash scene featuring scantily clad sumo wrestlers. The sumos posed in magazines and newspapers in classic pin-up and calendar shots and in virtual billboards in Xbox 360 games. On radio, a Barry White-type voice interrupts the announcer, saying the features make him feel like ‘makin’ love.’ All activity directed potential customers to sexysubaru.ca, where they could act as official photographer for the 2009 Subaru Forester Sexy Photo Shoot.

The launch exceeded all expectations. May sales were the highest in Canadian history for the Forester as well as the Subaru franchise, whose share of the segment grew by five points. Subaru had to backorder units for customers. ‘CarWash’ scored over 600,000 views on YouTube, making it the most talked-about automotive viral video on the net for more than a week.


The Bodygroom men’s electric shaver is meant for shaving below the neckline, a facet of men’s grooming that in the past has received little attention.

DDB found that for all their bravado, most men considered body grooming a taboo topic. Rather than name body parts, the agency decided to use evocative innuendo. This humorous approach would desensitize the subject matter, steer clear of any regulatory issues and score points with the young male demographic.

Given the limited budget, radio was the perfect medium to create hype and maximize traffic to the website. The spots began with an announcement that, due to the sensitive subject matter, the specific applications of the Bodygroom couldn’t be discussed. Instead, an expert offered seemingly innocuous tips euphemistic of nether-region grooming. ‘Housekeeping Tips’ reminded listeners to ‘check between the cushions.’ ‘Gardening Tips’ stressed ‘the importance of mowing your front lawn, and if you have one, your back lawn too.’ To take it a step further, an actor appeared in a window display at the Bay flagship store in Toronto wearing a terrycloth robe and surrounded by well-groomed topiaries.

The talk value paid off tremendously. In major centres, the campaign generated 980,781 aired impressions through radio co-promotions and DJ chatter. Web hits in May were 10 times the typical monthly activity. Within seven months, Philips became the number two brand in the category, and the campaign won awards locally and internationally, including the Mercury Awards.

Jump to:

Gold – Taxi

Silver – BBDO

Honourable mention – John St.

Finalist – Zig

Finalist – Ogilvy & Mather


Visit the Agency of the Year 2008 site