AOY Gold: DDB rules the roost

Frank Palmer and company have done it again. After a brief stopover at Bronze last year, DDB Canada is AOY champion once more, thanks to a solid performance across the board with five campaigns that showcase the agency's undeniable bench strength spanning categories and media.

Frank Palmer and company have done it again. After a brief stopover at Bronze last year, DDB Canada is AOY champion once more, thanks to a solid performance across the board with five campaigns that showcase the agency’s undeniable bench strength spanning categories and media.

It was a rough year for DDB Canada’s parent company Omnicom, and DDB Canada lost staff in Toronto and Vancouver, contributing to a drop of 36 since this time last year. Long-time CCO Alan Russell departed the Vancouver office in January, with no plans to replace him; award-winning creatives Dean Lee and Cosmo Campbell were subsequently appointed co-CDs.

But despite the upheaval, the agency’s creative standard held fast. DDB scored some big wins this year, from Karacters Design Group’s Bronze Design Lion at Cannes for Silver Hills Bakery to Tribal’s Best in Show Campaign win at the Bessies for B.C. Dairy Foundation’s ‘Must Drink More Milk.’

The Milk work was a clear favourite with AOY judges this year, who called it ‘sticky’ and ‘completely unexpected.’ For B.C. Dairy Foundation director of communication and market development Liz Gurszky, who was initially attracted to DDB’s youth expertise in the form of its KidThink unit eight years ago, the recession was an opportunity to supplement consumers’ desire for comfort foods like milk with creative that spoke to the target. ‘It allows us more freedom and flexibility to air our ads more often, take advantage of that opportunity to have better rates and to do something a little bit different and new again,’ she says.

Also bucking the recession trend, the agency’s tourism category clientele, well represented by the Canadian Tourism Commission (CTC), is growing, with the addition of the New Brunswick Department of Tourism and Parks this year, in partnership with Revolution Strategies.

Palmer himself is not one to sit still, even in a storm, and the past 12 months have been marked by a series of strategic promotions and hires to strengthen the agency’s social media, digital and planning departments. Planning capabilities were beefed up with the addition of two strategic vets: Toronto-based SVP director of strategic planning Tony Johnstone, who previously managed the integrated planning practice at Grey Advertising in Toronto, and Eric Weaver, who is now account director digital strategist in Vancouver.

To answer the increasing demand for social programs, DDB expanded its Radar unit this spring, moving Vancouver manager Yvonne van Dinther eastward to Toronto in April, where she is now spearheading that office with strategic planner Steve Wright. Van Dinther was replaced in Vancouver by Justin Young, who came over from Rethink. The agency’s comfort in this burgeoning area is evidenced through nimble feats such as last month’s coup, when Radar seized the opportunity to put the ‘Crasher Squirrel’ viral phenomenon to good use for Banff Tourism.

Also in the digital sphere, Tribal DDB spearheaded the UGC-based ‘Locals Know’ campaign for the CTC (see p. 20) under the leadership of managing directors Amber Bezahler in Vancouver and Andrew McCartney in Toronto, both of whom joined in the second half of last year from Blast Radius in an effort to re-energize the department and keep pace with digital growth.

One thing B.C. Dairy’s Gurszky says cemented her relationship with DDB over the years, and paved the way to a brave and groundbreaking collaboration, is the access she has to all levels of staff, from Palmer down. ‘For me as a marketer being involved in the process and being in touch with the people that are creating the process helps to bring that trust up. So once you’re involved and included, that really does minimize that risk.’

The facts:

Offices: Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, Edmonton, Victoria

Staff: 289

New hires: ADs Lisa Chen-Wing and Colin Hart; Josh Fehr, CD, Tribal DDB; Tony Johnstone, SVP director of strategic planning; Andrew McCartney, managing director, Tribal DDB; Tony Miller, ECD, Anderson DDB Health & Lifestyle; Eric Weaver, account director/digital strategist, Tribal DDB; Justin Young, managing director, Radar DDB

New business: Manulife Investments, Canadian Cancer Society (national office and Ontario division), New Brunswick Department of Tourism and Parks, Plan Canada, Shoppers Drug Mart, TransLink, Servus Credit Union, Sport B.C., Vancouver Convention Centre


The Looking Glass Foundation offers a glimpse

Eating disorders are more prevalent than most people realize, with more than 300,000 sufferers in B.C. alone. Public care only covers extreme cases, and many are forced to battle this illness in isolation without proper treatment.

To compound the problem, research showed that most people fail to realize that eating disorders are mental illnesses, instead labelling them as self-inflicted behaviour, a phase or a ‘rich girl’ disease. The Vancouver-based Looking Glass Foundation set out to create a private treatment facility for sufferers, and to break down the stigma.

The foundation had to connect with mothers, teachers, coaches and friends – the biggest influencers in the fundraising drive, who could also potentially help sufferers directly. By bringing to life the haunting reality and distorted perceptions of those afflicted, the goal was to prove that this was far from a lifestyle choice.

To articulate the message, DDB developed a campaign around the fact that ‘Not every suicide note looks like a suicide note.’


The TV ads showed women in situations that eventually revealed clues to an eating disorder. In one spot, a girl marks her height on a wall, and then does the same for her shrinking waist. OOH featured blown-up food items tagged with ‘actual size to someone with anorexia,’ while ambient pieces – a toothbrush, a spool of thread, a hairbrush – were tagged with real-life confessions from sufferers and scattered around the Lower Mainland to be discovered by passersby, directing them to Radio executions highlighted the similarities between eating disorders and other serious illnesses. Online, banners allowing users to adjust the weight of a woman using a scale were rigged, leaving an emaciated woman next to the tagline, ‘Nobody can control an eating disorder.’

Based on the strength of the creative idea, the British Columbia Association of Broadcasters awarded Looking Glass $1 million in gifted media. Since the campaign broke, the foundation has raised over $250,000 to purchase property to open a world-class treatment facility. Calls to the helpline have increased over 200% and site traffic has increased by 77%. Looking Glass is now considering purchasing media themselves to build on the momentum generated by the BCAB award.

B.C. Dairy Foundation gets tough

Saddled with strong associations to moms, vitamins and cows, milk is unfortunately on the wrong end of the ‘cool’ spectrum for youngsters. In order to grow volume with teens and young adults, the Burnaby, B.C.-based B.C. Dairy Foundation needed to find a way to make milk more meaningful to them and make it socially acceptable to drink with friends.

Immersive research in high schools and teens’ homes revealed that this group was well-versed in the health benefits of milk. And because teens felt invincible, focusing on health would likely be ineffective. So instead, DDB tapped into their inherently competitive nature. Whether getting into college or participating in sports, the line between success and failure is slim, and the slightest advantage can make a world of difference. The agency decided to drive the point home by showing the performance consequences of not drinking enough milk in an offbeat, teen-relevant way, and ‘Must Drink More Milk’ was born.

A pool of 14 stop-motion animated films launched simultaneously across broadcast, cinema and online. Each eclectic execution highlighted a particular competitive moment in the lives of various quirky characters, from chubby Russian dolls and amorous playing cards to back alley puppets and a talking mousetrap. In every scenario, the beat-down victim lamented that he or she ‘must drink more milk,’ which might have changed the outcome. Each film ended with a signature graphic, designed by a snowboard artist.

Online, the films lived at and inspired a user-generated YouTube film contest. And in the real world, strength challenges like bungee races and resistance rowing in urban centres and schools helped to bring the proposition to life.

B.C. Dairy Foundation analysis concluded sales increased 10 times per dollar spent, relative to competitive beverages. Nielsen sales data showed a 3% growth in milk volume in B.C. – or about seven million litres per year – corresponding to the campaign timing. All this in an exceptionally mature product category. And as for engaging the teen target, winning teams at the 2009 Provincial High School Basketball Championships chanted ‘must drink more milk’ to the opposition.

Canadian Tourism Commission taps local expertise

Most Canadian holidaymakers perceive their country as familiar ground, lacking the excitement of foreign destinations. Taking a vacation in Canada meant staying at home, regardless of the actual distance travelled. And huge marketing efforts for international destinations were drawing them away. Case in point: in 2008, Canadian domestic travellers – the country’s largest tourism market – accounted for $59 billion of total tourism spending. But in the same year, Canadians took 27 million trips outside the country, causing a record domestic travel deficit of $12.6 billion.

To sell the Canadian stay-cation, the Vancouver-based Canadian Tourism Commission needed to inspire people to seek out new and exotic experiences in their own backyards. DDB thought the best people to convince them of the undiscovered world-class travel experiences at home would be other Canadians, because after all, ‘Locals Know.’


To get the conversation started, print ads ran from coast to coast featuring places in Canada that did not seem like Canada at all – sand dunes, a volcano, tropical-blue waters – accompanied by a question: where is this? On TV, nine 15-second spots used user-generated content: a man surfing river rapids, a zip-trekker rushing through the tree tops, a boat tour passing a collapsing iceberg. All ads drove to or

Besides revealing the locations from the TV and print ads (Saskatchewan, anyone?), the website invited visitors to share their local knowledge by adding their favourite unknown Canadian travel spots. People could share stories, leave comments and add new photos, which in turn created further buzz about the destinations themselves. A live Twitter feed also allowed visitors to follow the adventures of two fellow Canadians as they travelled across the country.

Before the campaign reached the halfway mark, Forbes magazine named ‘Locals Know’ one of its top 10 travel campaigns in the world. The website has attracted over 450,000 visitors and generated over 2.2 million page views, blasting past industry averages. An interim conversion study conducted four weeks after launch revealed 22% of respondents claimed to have booked or already taken a trip in Canada since seeing the ads. Another 3% of Canadians said they would switch from a foreign trip to a Canadian destination for their holiday.

Capital One goes to hell

Dominated by the Big Five banks and supplemented with an additional 17 issuers, the Canadian rewards card market is cluttered to say the least. Consumers are inundated with a bewildering array of options and discouraged by hidden surprises at redemption.

For the national launch of its No Hassle Rewards card, Toronto-based Capital One had to win over the cynical, distrusting consumer. Instead of trying to seduce with idyllic portrayals of the benefits of point accumulation, DDB developed a campaign to face consumer skepticism head on, confronting hassles at the time of redemption in a very visceral and confident manner.


The creative played off the idea that it would be a cold day in hell before anyone offered a rewards card like this one, enlisting the unlikeliest of corporate pitchmen: the Prince of Darkness himself.

The campaign began with three humorous 30-second TV commercials. In ‘Hell Freezes,’ the devil wakes up in bed, shivering and surrounded by snow. He soon learns the cause of this serious temperature shift – the Capital One card, with no surprises at redemption. Holding a sharp metal object, he deadpans, ‘There goes poker night.’

The TV was supported by transit posters and billboards with images of the devil in scarf and mittens, shovelling snow and pushing a snowblower. A series of banners drove directly to the No Hassle Rewards website, with its new, ‘frozen’ look. A direct response component in the form of hell’s own newspaper, ‘The Daily Burn,’ ran articles explaining Capital One’s role in the meteorological miracle. The weekly weather forecast? Freezing.

Thanks to the campaign, Capital One saw awareness for the No Hassle Rewards card rise from 23% to 45%, more than double the objective. Consideration for the card among those who were aware also surpassed the targeted 5% increase, rising from 28% pre-campaign to 36% post.

Midas Canada cuts to the chase

Auto service is a tough sell at the best of times. During a recession, car owners postpone all but the most critical repairs, even if it means risking another winter on near-bald tires or ignoring an overdue oil change.

While competitors attempted to scare drivers into their shops, Markham, ON.-based Midas Canada needed a different approach. The campaign had to demonstrate that consumers weren’t so much buying a set of tires as the assurance that they would get where they needed to go on a bad winter day.

After a decade of importing U.S. creative, the first original Canadian television effort also marked the first time Midas had promoted its expert tire service nationally. Without the budget luxury of brand creative, this retail-driven campaign needed to generate talk value to give it a broader trans-media presence than the media plan afforded.

The answer? A distinctly Canadian car chase featuring a police cruiser in very, very low-speed pursuit of its suspects. Through TV news-style footage including the prototypical helicopter shot, both vehicles spin their bald tires helplessly in the slush and ice before everybody finally gets out to push. Supported with radio, DM and on-site POP, all elements drove to a compelling offer of a free winter maintenance package with the purchase of four tires.


‘Chase’ remained one of YouTube Canada’s most viewed films throughout the fall and winter of 2008 with over two million views. It also popped up on police and emergency service forums, thanks to the funny factor. As a result, the phones started ringing at Midas dealerships across the country. Midas’ tire service revenue grew by 50% over the previous year, and saved Q4 for the brand in a simply horrific category retail environment. If dealers hadn’t run out of tires, it could have been even higher.

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Silver: Rethink

Bronze: Zig

Honourable Mention: Lowe Roche

Finalist: Taxi

Finalist: Ogilvy

Judging panel