Brand battlegrounds: five winners in 2010

From quick trajectory to slow-and-steady transformation, this year's Brands of the Year are a diverse bunch.

In the beginning TIFF wasn’t a brand so much as a full-blown feud, more battle than tiff. Back in my Playback magazine days when the Toronto and Montreal film fests were fighting for films and stars, and sparring in consumer and industry press over who had the biggest, I’d look forward to the latest salvos and one-upmanship between the rival programmers. It was brilliant promotion, although perhaps not intended or appreciated as such at the time.
TIFF went on to become one of the top festivals for launching films in the world, right up there with Cannes. Seems trial by fire is something that pops up in the annals of really successful brands, and no doubt sets the stage for the fierceness needed to win beyond our border.
Achieving this status meant wooing international studios, getting more and increasingly sophisticated sponsors on board, and keeping TIFF a priority for consumers who have entertainment options that don’t involve queuing. This year all that striving paid off as TIFF moved into its first home, the Bell Lightbox, a big shiny jewel of a building befitting the brand’s big bling status. Which is why TIFF is one of our 2010 Brand of the Year winners.
While TIFF grew its brand for over 35 years, our cover Brand of the Year did so in two and a half. Koodo’s brand building at light speed is the poster case for infusing every iota – from packaging to truly transmedia campaigns – with brand essence.
Establishing a brand quickly is a crucial skill set, especially in mobile. With a daunting competitor in Virgin and more in the wings, Telus had to enter the fray large. Taxi 2 and the Koodo team created a completely realized brand world that stretched from retail to mass media, where its offbeat humour and ’80s spandex-inspired palette created a multiplier effect that gave an illusion of ubiquity far beyond its means. It was also flexible. The quirky brand attitude and signature signoff has been the cement ensuring continuity through each creative reinvention.
Another Brand of the Year winner that nailed reinvention is Mark’s and its remarkable transformation from a work-wear retailer to a brand that gets women.
Originally designated a Work Wearhouse, Mark’s took advantage of its guy traffic by segueing into weekend and work wear for the non-uniform set. It capitalized on women’s presence in the store – picking up Dickie’s for their blue collar hubby or skateboarding kids – and created unique garb to win her over as well. “Clothes that work” went beyond steel-toed boots to pants that take care of your wobbly bits and shirts that iron themselves. By answering needs we didn’t know we had, like heated boots, Mark’s has succeeded in a market where brands with a sole focus on women’s fashion struggle. Brilliantly played, according to our retail pundits.
On the defying-odds front, Degrassi makes the winners’ circle for longevity in a fickle category. Canada’s entertainment industry has a history of success with youth TV, but it’s typically easily exportable kids animated shows, often based on evergreen properties. Teen drama is a hard genre and not many hit 30 years, let alone earn the export success Degrassi has had. We love that Degrassi broke teen content taboos, and the fact that it was transmedia before producers knew that was the grail, promoting itself via manga and webisodes. Not to mention the whole Kevin Smith thing. Iconic.
When it comes to old-fashioned brand building powered by the emotional pull of ads on heartstrings, we had to give it to A&W. They’ve played the nostalgia card well via a long-running program targeting boomers, yet somehow managed to make the brand simultaneously relevant to a new generation, which the chain’s new urban locations seem poised to capitalize on.
Most years, once all the Brand of the Year pundits have been polled and the facts all fielded, an overall winner emerges. This year, perhaps since each brand’s struggles and successes are so diverse, equally compelling cases were made for each. Thusly, we have five winners.
Strategy thanks everyone who nominated brands, and to all the marketing experts who helped vet the list. Congrats to all the winners!

Cheers, mm
Mary Maddever, exec editor, strategy, Media in Canada and stimulant