Agency A-List – KBS’ tech-savvy approach

The agency is focusing on new platforms, while reminding brands that there's a person at the end of the communication.
In a spoof of bottled water advertising, the World Vision campaign aimed to educate consumers about the importance of water among those who struggle to access it.

In a spoof of bottled water advertising, the World Vision campaign aimed to educate consumers about the importance of water among those who struggle to access it.

Our founding philosophy, both now and in the future, is we help companies modernize to thrive in a tech-driven culture,” says Matt Hassell, national CCO at KBS.

That’s not to say the agency is just focused on all things digital, jumping on new technology the moment it debuts. Rather, he says it’s an understanding that the cultural impact of digital is immense, and to reach consumers in the best way possible the shop must explore all new forms of communication.

“We need to talk in the same language consumers are using, on the platforms they’re on,” he says. For example, the brand is finalizing a project for a client, in which search terms associated with the brand will be printed on OOH ads. The reasoning, Hassell says, is many consumers are likely to pull out their phones and do the search on the spot, rather than wait until they get home.

And the secret sauce seems to be working. New clients have been coming aboard, including ACE Bakery and Mt. Sinai, as well as incremental growth for clients such as McCain Foods.

KBS’ focus on connecting relies on planning and finding the insights that will set brands up for the long haul. He points to a recent campaign for headphone-maker Skullcandy, in which the brand sought out relatively unknown creative types online to be spokespeople, as an example of hitting all the right cultural cues.

Skullcandy, which competes against celeb-heavy Beats, by Dr. Dre, wanted to find people who were hustling to succeed and people who were cool, but weren’t focussed on their status and telling the world they were cool. In the end, the brand partnered with a graffiti artist, video producer and photographer, eschewing a logo in the videos to give the creators a chance to show off their own passions, with the videos seeded on social platforms and TV.

“We need to talk in the same language consumers are using, on the platforms they’re on,”

It was all about connecting emotionally with the consumer, putting Skullcandy more in line with a brand that supports up-and-comers, rather than celebrities who’ve made it big – an important quality to the brand’s target demo, says Hassell.

Interestingly, KBS looks for staffers with that same kind of hustle. Hassell says people who have side projects or have built up their own businesses are often the most active “doers.” Plus, the shop is structured in a way that puts the entrepreneurial nature of its talent at the heart of the creative process.

FROM LEFT: Rick Chiarelli, chief growth officer; Matt Hassell, national CCO; Susan Meisels, VP strategy; and Nick Dean, president and CEO; The agency positioned McCain’s Superfries as the go-to good for intimate gatherings, like girls’ nights, reunions and even couple’s nights in.

“We take inspiration from outside the agency world; music, technology, and start-ups when defining our search for new talent. That’s the spirit that’s infectious,” he says. “They really take creative projects to the next level.”

To that end, the agency has brought a lot of its video and content creation capabilities in-house, which Hassell says is true to the entrepreneurial spirit (and keeps the creatives next to the project the whole time).

KBS also continues to deepen its capabilities in understanding consumer behaviour. The merger with analytics firm Kenna was one step in that direction, and KBS continues to grow its insights team.

FROM LEFT: The Keg’s social campaigns – including a tasty-looking seasonal mojito – helped the brand grow its social media engagement and sold the message that the restaurant was a great place to connect; Tapping into up-and-coming creative artist, KBS took the Skullcandy brand to new heights – literally.

“A big challenge however, is to not fall prey to easy metrics,” Hassell says. While data and analytics look great on a spreadsheet, he stresses that it’s important to recognize that “people aren’t just data on a spreadsheet, clients really need to focus on the individual.”

Coupled with that, Hassell says brands and agencies need to be more aware that the technology is just a means to an end – a way of communicating with consumers. “We can’t just talk about social platforms as the end of what we do,” he says. “The brand doesn’t actually live on the billboard or the TV spot. It lives in the consumer’s heart. And the moment we stop talking to a human being, is the moment we’re in trouble.

“We’re not interested in doing the same old same old,” he adds. “We’re interested in driving cultural change through modern thinking and giving our clients outstanding work that will drive transformational results for their brands. We’re ready to break new ground in the Canadian advertising industry.”

The Agency A List stories originally ran in the June Cannes issue.