Gold: Starcom MediaVest

If integration is the name of the game this year, then Starcom MediaVest Group gets top marks. Headed by Lauren Richards, the agency set the bar for intelligent and innovative content integration initiatives by partnering Nintendo Wii's Big Brain Academy with Canwest's Are You Smarter Than a Canadian 5th Grader? for an initiative that was shortlisted at Cannes this year.

If integration is the name of the game this year, then Starcom MediaVest Group gets top marks. Headed by Lauren Richards, the agency set the bar for intelligent and innovative content integration initiatives by partnering Nintendo Wii’s Big Brain Academy with Canwest’s Are You Smarter Than a Canadian 5th Grader? for an initiative that was shortlisted at Cannes this year.

‘The strategic fit was fantastic,’ explains Richards. ‘I don’t believe in integrating by banging people over the head and doing it for the sake of it.’

SMG’s key to success is creative partnering, given the limited content available in the Canadian marketplace. ‘They continue to bring the opportunity – and the desire – to be more innovative,’ says Gaye McDonald, former VP marketing ventures/brand partnership, Canwest MediaWorks. ‘Sometimes you need your partner to challenge you.’

Starcom’s momentum in 2008 was helped by significant new business wins, including the repatriation of Kellogg’s and the addition of names like RIM, Samsung and WSPCA to its client roster. The agency also brought in some noteworthy talent, including Anne Myers, formerly of OMD, as EVP managing director and Joy Sanguedoce as innovation director.

Last year marked a reinvention process for the agency. ‘There’s a lot we’re doing differently, and a lot of new talent. We’re really seeing the fruits of our labour,’ says Richards, who has been with SMG since July 2006. ‘I was thrilled with the product, the direction, where we’ve come from and where we’re going with it, and the new business momentum that we have.’

Another new venture for the agency was the launch of a Canadian captivation study that quantifies the ability of TV programming to deliver highly engaged viewers and drive recall. The index, borrowed from similar studies south of the border, aims to create greater value for SMG’s TV buying clients.

And given the state of the economy, value is growing even more important for marketers. Richards says it comes down to being inventive, and now that throwing money at a problem is no longer an option, that means original ideas. ‘That kind of thinking is where we want to push our agency more and more,’ she says.


Location: Toronto

Number of employees: 100

New hires:
• Anne Myers, EVP, managing director
• Alexandra Panousis, SVP, group strategy director
• Chris Saunders, SVP, group strategy director
• Joy Sanguedoce, innovation director

New business: Kellogg’s, GM Search, RIM, Samsung, WSPCA, Flow, Bass Pro Shops, Chinese Lantern Festival


When investigating the opportunities for increasing Johnnie Walker consumption among the Chinese-Canadian community, Starcom found a New Years custom that aligned perfectly with the brand’s positioning as the scotch of choice for successful and accomplished consumers.

Culturally relevant TV, radio and print ads were the foundation of Starcom’s media plan, topped with a one-to-one brand experience that connected with consumers in their own language and culture. Starcom united the three linguistic subgroups of Chinese Canadians by leveraging a universally accepted Chinese New Year custom called Fai Cheun, in which red paper posters offer special greetings for wealth, good health, luck or success.

Starcom created two types of premium Johnnie Walker Fai Cheun, and distributed them inside Canada’s highest-traffic Chinese shopping complex, located in Toronto, conveniently adjacent to a liquor store. Shoppers were greeted by models who spoke about key Johnnie Walker attributes in Cantonese and Mandarin. They could also have a personal Fai Cheun created by renowned calligrapher Guan Sui Sheng, before scooting over to the LCBO for a free scotch and green tea tasting.

The Fai Cheun experience created a sensation in the community, and the event was featured in Toronto’s two largest Chinese daily newspapers. Consumers posted the advertising in their homes, stores, restaurants and businesses, promoting their personal connection with Johnnie Walker. Over 110,000 people – 17% of Toronto’s Chinese-Canadian population – visited the calligraphy stations. For the Chinese New Year period, volume grew 44% and revenue grew 39% versus the previous year in Toronto’s key Chinese communities.


To launch Nintendo’s Big Brain Academy game for the Wii system in the pre-Christmas frenzy, Starcom MediaVest Group needed to engage both moms and kids and had to do so on a restricted budget.

Given the educational nature of the children’s game, the target market was alpha moms, rather than Nintendo’s usual young male demo. Based on the insight that those who played with or saw someone else playing with a Wii were often motivated to purchase, Starcom went with an experiential television property that spanned both demos. The agency partnered Nintendo with Canwest Global on its Canadian production of the U.S. game show Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?

Nintendo was integrated from the outset, from kids on the national casting tour playing Big Brain Academy while waiting to audition, to mentions in Global’s news coverage of the tour and show promotion. Nintendo created Mii avatars of the Fifth Graders which appeared during the show and online. At the beginning of each episode, a 60-second feature showed the kids ‘warming up their brains’ with the game, and when a contestant reached the $25,000 question, the Big Brain Academy logo appeared on screen. Viewers playing at home via text message used a simulated version of the console to answer questions.

A sales lift of 53% was achieved during the airings of Canadian 5th Grader, with instant sales lifts achieved directly after the airing of each episode. Nintendo’s market share grew 7% in October and another 5% in November, putting them at 48% share overall. The show met its aggressive weekly audience estimates and the program was shortlisted in the Cannes Media category.


A staple in Quebec since 1962, Pogo has had minimal communication with consumers since 2001. As the frozen category exploded, the challenge was to make the brand more memorable and socially acceptable among teen boys – and increase growth by 5%.

The solution was to marry the snack-on-a-stick’s unique style with the fact that guys love competing with their friends in games that are often simple and a bit ridiculous. Based on the campaign idea of ‘Be proud of your wiener,’ teen boys were challenged to demonstrate their Pogo pride in ‘Pogothons’ by holding their Pogo in the air for as long as they could.

In the first, unbranded phase, Starcom created buzz by seeding the Pogo icon on street signs, T-shirts and chalk art in high-traffic areas. Seven- and eight-second Pogo images were flashed on MusiquePlus and Vrak, while random MusiquePlus camera pans caught teens holding their Pogos high.

Phase two incorporated branding to build up to the ‘Mega-Pogothon.’ Sticker poster pads were placed in skate parks and basketball courts, and boys then transferred them to their skateboards, lockers, etc. A mini-Pogothon at MusiquePlus was supported by brand videos, VJ mentions and promo spots. All branded elements drove to the website, where teens could sign up for the contest or play the online game. Live-to-tape capsules aired during the Mega-Pogothon and highlights were broadcast post-event.

Research illustrated that the Pogothon and the online game were particularly engaging, and tracking shows unaided awareness increased 22% in the corn dog category and over 300% in frozen food. The business goals are on track to be achieved.

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Media Director of the Year – Bruce Neve

Next Media Star – Danny Shenkman

Silver – Mediaedge:cia

Bronze – PHD

Honourable Mention – MediaCom


Visit the Media AOY 2008 site