Editorial: Doing more with a lot less

From our June issue, editor Emily Wexler on grand innovation on a tight budget.

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At the cocktail party after the AToMiC Awards, held May 15 in Toronto, I was speaking with a creative director at a large Canadian agency that’s part of a global network. He told me his counterparts in smaller South American countries assumed Canadian agencies have huge budgets like our U.S. neighbours. They were shocked to learn that while our land mass is large, and we share a border with a behemoth, our budgets are often more shoestring than grand. Like smaller nations, we often have to do more with a lot less.

If the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity has taught us anything, it’s that nothing breeds innovation like constraints. Some of the most interesting winning work year after year comes from countries outside the G8, such as Brazil, South Korea or the Philippines.

For years Canada didn’t exactly have a reputation for being innovative. We always seemed to be a few steps (and months/years) behind on everything – the hip retail stores, the coolest products, the latest trends and of course the advertising. You could always tell when an ad was Canadian because it felt so… safe.

But nothing illustrates how far we’ve come like this year’s AToMiC Awards, which celebrated the most innovative advertising and media ideas in Canada. Among the winners there was a geo-location-based app to find missing kids, a beer fridge opened with Canadian passports, an airline stunt that went viral around the world and, taking the Grand Prix, a Twitter takeover that showed people what it felt like to live with Tourette Syndrome.

For a further example, look at how Cadbury in Canada and its Toronto agency The Hive have expanded the brand’s Bicycle Factory program – which provides bikes to communities in Africa – to include product innovation, providing bike-powered lights that solve a big problem in areas where electricity is scarce.

All of this is not exactly traditional ad work, and most of it is done on a tiny fraction of the budgets of our U.S. counterparts. It’s hard not to get a little swell of pride.

It seems this country (spurred by the breakneck speed of the digital age) has woken up to the fact that to stand out, you must up your creative game, and ideas can now come from anywhere. Just look at how many creative directors have jumped ship from traditional agencies to move on to tech companies, PR shops and media cos. It’s a downright Wild West out there – when it comes to ideas, it’s all about who draws their gun first.

The strategy team will be in Cannes again this year, and we look forward to seeing the new crop of ideas, especially in the Innovation, Branded Content and Entertainment, and Titanium and Integrated categories.

We expect to see some grand innovation, and you can be sure we’ll be rooting for the little guys. Especially the one with the large land mass.