AOY Silver: Rethink thrives with the little guy

Rethink loves an underdog. If you don't believe that, a flip through their Silver-winning cases over the next few pages will convince you.

Rethink loves an underdog. If you don’t believe that, a flip through their Silver-winning cases over the next few pages will convince you: from long-time clients like Coast Capital Savings to new North American accounts like webhosters Peer 1 and gamers 2K Sports to eco-friendly rabble rousers like the Dogwood Initiative, there’s no shortage of take-’em-on brands in the Vancouver indie agency’s AOY portfolio this year.

‘They really thrive working with the little guy, doing what they can to position them to take on the Goliaths,’ says Surrey, B.C.-based Coast Capital Savings VP marketing Lawrie Ferguson, who has worked with co-CDs Chris Staples and Ian Grais and their partner Tom Shepansky and co. since the B.C. credit union was formed in 2003. (Richmond Savings, one of the three smaller FIs that merged to form CCS, followed Grais and Staples from Palmer Jarvis DDB when they split to set up their own shop in 1999.)

Rethink can be seen as a bit of an underdog itself: a relatively small, nimble player that consistently dominates Canadian award shows with work that makes national household names out of local B.C. brands like Playland and Science World. Case in point: the agency won AOY Silver in 2005 and Gold in 2006. Despite their successes, Staples, Grais and Shepansky are content to keep their ‘kitchen’ in Vancouver, close to their roster of mainly regional clients.

Rethink’s work for the credit union has stood out in the FI category – known for its conservative standards – and this year’s satirical attack on the Big Five Canadian banks, ‘I Love Fees,’ was no exception (see p. 26). ‘Our brand is about taking some risks, about poking fun at ourselves,’ says Ferguson. ‘Rethink is part and parcel of that; they come in with risky stuff.’

The standout work is the result of a collaborative relationship with a total lack of ego, says Ferguson, and this open approach also applies within the agency, as campaigns are vetted through a peer review process. ‘We believe that advertising is a team sport, and that all opinions have value,’ Grais told strategy in February, when Rethink swept the annual Creative Report Card award rankings – again. ‘We’ll show ideas in rough form to people in all departments – and even take our scribbles out onto the street.’

While the shop lost some of its top talent this year – eight months after copywriter Jono Holmes moved east to Taxi in Toronto last summer, star team Rob Sweetman and Bryan Collins took co-CD titles at Cossette West in February – it’s held steady at around 60 staffers as it beefs up its digital, design and production departments. Rob Tarry was promoted to group creative director. Art directors Chad Kabigting and Nicolas Quintal are now ACDs, as are AD/designer Brian Musgrove and copywriter Bob Simpson. Design group CD Jeff Harrison joins the executive team as the agency’s fifth junior partner.

And they put their money where their mouth is with the Rethink Rebate, which ties up to 5% of the agency’s fee to sales targets or other metrics – they claim to have more money tied up in rebates at any given time than they pay in rent in a year. ‘They’re very frugal, driving the value back into the relationship as opposed to into affectations of an agency,’ says Ferguson. (Think Astro Turf and Ikea furniture vs. hardwood and closed door offices.)

Yet they still find time for pro-bono work like the jury favourite ‘No Tankers Loonie Project’ for the Victoria-based Dogwood Initiative (see p. 28). AOY judge Kevin Edwards, Grand & Toy VP marketing, said the sticker project was his favourite campaign of the year, calling it ‘a brilliantly simple execution that was both provocative and thought-provoking.’ It also earned the conservation non-profit a Cease and Desist order from the Canadian Mint for allegedly defacing currency (the decals in fact peel off).

Dogwood communications director Charles Campbell says the Rethink project – the second they’ve done together, with another in the works this fall – inspired his organization to take more creative risks. ‘They have a really creative attitude which I think their structure and independence allows,’ he says. ‘They seem to bat above their weight [with respect to] creative projects.’

The facts:

Office: Vancouver

Staff: 60

New hires: Matt Gomes, team leader, interactive; Allison Abernethy, account manager; David Giovando, writer; Natee Likit, art director

New business: Peer 1 Web Hosting, AG Hair Cosmetics,, Alberta Libraries, 2K Sports, BC Hydrogen Highway, Palladin Security


Mr. Lube takes no appointments

While Delta, B.C.-based Mr. Lube has more locations and customers than any other quick lube provider in the country, the category overall was underdeveloped in Canada. Over the years, car dealerships have done a great job of implying that changing your oil anywhere else would void your warranty. While Mr. Lube had made headway with consumers in establishing itself as a credible, professional alternative to dealers, the convenience message still needed reinforcement.

Rethink found a chink in the dealers’ armour: research showed that consumers hated the hassle of taking their car to a dealer, where appointments often needed to be booked weeks in advance. In contrast, Mr. Lube never requires an appointment, and most customers are in and out in 30 minutes.

The ‘No Appointment Necessary’ campaign built on last year’s anti-dealer messaging, moving to the service desk, where customers encountered the joys of trying to make an impromptu appointment. Each TV spot contrasted this with the convenience offered by Mr. Lube, closing with the question, ‘Ready for a change?’

Rethink hammered away at the message to reach the male-skewed audience in all mediums. Print, OOH, DM and online borrowed imagery from dealer service manuals, which often help drive business to local franchisees. Finally, a new loyalty program, the Mr. Lube Club, was created to help keep customers after they defected.

Initial results show the campaign has been a success. Mr. Lube leads the quick lube category in unaided awareness nationally with top-of-mind recognition from customers. The Mr. Lube Club is off to a good start, with over 400,000 sign-ups in less than a year, and approximately 30% of customer visits resulting in membership.

The franchisee community has also embraced the campaign. A competitor launched a radio spot directly taking on Mr. Lube over the spring months. The BCAMA took notice, naming Mr. Lube Marketer of the Year.

Coast Capital Savings loves fees

Surrey, B.C.-based Coast Capital Savings, Canada’s second-largest credit union, had promoted its no-fees account since 2005, at that time the first of its kind in Canada. During those years, over 100,000 new accounts were opened. But research showed that this approach was starting to have diminishing returns. CCS needed to reframe the problem to encourage dissatisfied bank customers to switch.

Focus group research showed that even though most people say they hate banking fees, they’re often resigned to paying them. To jolt bank customers out of their complacency, Rethink created ‘I Love Fees.’ Taking visual inspiration from cheesy stock photography, the campaign created a ridiculous world where a couple could describe paying bank fees as their ‘special time’ together.


TV kicked off the campaign with a series of ads that parodied typical bank customer testimonials, with people talking about how much they actually love banking fees. The closer pointed out that ‘Nobody really likes paying fees. So stop paying them with the Free Chequing, Free Debit and More Account.’

Print, OOH and online banners drove to, where users could calculate the fees they were paying and see the grand total paid by all Canadians, order merchandise and upload ‘I Love Fees’ videos. There was also a link to the main CCS website, where Rethink created special content including an interactive greeter.

On the street, a media stunt featured a giant, six-feet-high greeting card where customers could write a personal ‘congratulations’ note to the big banks for charging them so many fees.

Account activations were strong after only 22 weeks in market. CCS has had its best year ever for brand linkage in print – a whopping 62%. And after eight weeks in market, prompted recall of the TV campaign sat at a healthy 44%.

2K Sports makes a simpler play

As a challenger brand in the sports gaming market, Novato, CA.-based 2K Sports’ NHL 2K series was getting slammed against the boards by competitor EA Sports’ NHL titles.

Seen in the past as clumsy and over-complicated, the latest version of 2K’s hockey game was developed to rectify these issues, with new, easier controls and streamlined game play.

Rethink knew they couldn’t treat the North American launch of NHL 2K9 as business as usual. They wanted to avoid the formulaic approach to videogame advertising, which meant a trailer relying largely on graphics. The graphics had never been the issue with the 2K game; the interface was the problem. Just looking at the game graphics, it was impossible to tell that the game had been fundamentally changed.

Rethink focused on communicating the simplicity and fun of the player experience to casual, ‘pick up and play’ gamers between 18 and 34 who wanted to learn a new game quickly, and play with friends who may be completely unfamiliar with the game. The creative took a self-deprecating look at complicated hockey games, including the previous version of NHL 2K, with TV spots showing a gamer tattooing gameplay combinations on his arm, before finding out there’s an easier alternative.


Posters and print ads in U.S. and Canadian gaming and sports publications used the same basic idea, with the headline, ‘Playing shouldn’t be this hard.’

Ironically, reviews of the new game said 2K had made the game too simple, sacrificing rich game play for ease of use. Gamers, however, seemed oblivious to the reviews and flocked to the new title, especially on the Wii platform. Sales to date for the game are over 240,000 units, well ahead of projections.

The Dogwood Initiative follows the money

The Dogwood Initiative is a Victoria-based organization opposed to oil tanker traffic along British Columbia’s northern coast. After a 38-year federal government moratorium, a proposal for an oil pipeline threatened to bring hundreds of oil tankers to the area.

Polls showed the majority of Canadians were unaware that the government was considering the proposal, and had never heard of the Dogwood Initiative. To make this cause a national issue, Rethink built a grassroots campaign to drive Canadians to to learn more and sign a petition aimed at the government.

With absolutely no media budget, Rethink created a brand new medium using something that passes through every Canadian’s hands each day: the loonie coin. When placed over the coin, the removable cling-vinyl decals made the iconic loon and the water surrounding it appear to be covered in black oil.

To get started, Rethink sent decals to Dogwood’s mailing list. Supporters ordered ‘party kits’ of 100 decals in return for a suggested donation. Later, people could use the Loonie Tracker Map to input locations where they had spotted loonies and watch their coins spread across the country.

Media coverage was crucial in spreading the word. Rethink sent decaled loonies to outlets coast to coast. A second wave of media resulted when the Royal Canadian Mint issued a Cease and Desist order, and Dogwood refused to comply. The Mint promised to respond with a letter stating their intentions, but nothing has been issued to date.

The campaign exceeded all expectations. For a budget of just $10,000, Dogwood received an estimated $1.5 million in media coverage. Traffic to increased by over 4,000%. So far, over 30,000 petition signatures have been collected. The story captured the attention of every media outlet in the country, with over 500 separate stories.

Hundreds of thousands of coins are still in circulation, and money is being raised to bring the number up to one million. This ongoing campaign is poised to lead to a legislated tanker traffic ban that will protect the coast forever.

Peer 1 speaks geek

One of North America’s leading web-hosting companies, Vancouver-based Peer 1 had to reach a fairly niche audience – IT and tech managers that make decisions about the type of web hosting services their business would use. It also had to make the most of a David-sized marketing budget in the shadow of a Goliathian competitor, the Texas-based Rackspace.

Rethink helped the little guy use his size to his advantage, focusing on small companies with big ambitions – the kind of companies that wanted to be the next YouTube. Talking with IT managers at these companies, it became clear that service was important, but scalability was even more crucial. Many tech companies run into problems when they grow too fast – their web hosting companies often can’t keep up. This leads to crashes, which makes IT managers look bad.

One more thing became apparent: the IT guys invariably had twisted senses of humour. They were proud to call themselves ‘geeks,’ and were big fans of irony and black comedy.

Rethink combined both insights into ‘Cursors,’ a campaign to show what happens when you choose a hosting company that can’t keep up with you. In the ads, IT managers are literally inundated with countless cursor icons as their companies grow, asking ‘Is your business ready for a million hits?’


Aware that most IT people tossed typical DM and stand-alone banner ads were also largely ineffective, the agency created a series of three long-format videos showing different companies being inundated with growth. The spots were placed by VideoEgg on sites frequented by IT managers. Each embedded video included a link to the website, where managers could fill out a quick RFP from Peer 1. Online banners ran on industry sites and drove to Peer 1′s website, where upon arrival cursors filled up the landing page as quickly as a million hits would.

Results were very positive. Through the VideoEgg online campaign, over 70,000 viewers engaged with the ‘Cursors’ creative, and the videos were viewed over 8,500 times on YouTube. Just under 2,000 viewers clicked through to the microsite. Of those, 251 immediately requested quotes for web-hosting services.

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Gold: DDB

Bronze: Zig

Honourable Mention: Lowe Roche

Finalist: Taxi

Finalist: Ogilvy

Judging panel