MaRS redefines ‘innovation’ in first campaign

The Toronto innovation hub aims to ease anxieties and cliches behind the buzzword by focusing on startups doing good.


“Innovation” is a buzzword MaRS Discovery District is looking to reclaim by sharing the real-life impact its startups are having in people’s lives.

It does this in its first mass campaign, leading with a spot that highlights things like a home caregiver app, energy efficient green technology and a digital headset for the vision impaired, juxtaposing them with cliched, stock images more routinely associated with tech and startups.

“We wanted to tell the story about the Canadian tech ecosystem, and the momentum it’s having,” says Karen Mazurkewich, lead executive, communications and marketing for MaRS.

The launch of the “Make Innovation Mean Something” campaign coincides with next week’s Collision, the largest tech conference in North America, which is being held in Toronto for the first time. Mazurkewich tells strategy that MaRS already wanted target the public at large with its first TV ad, but also “catch the wave of 30,000 coming from outside the city” with out-of-home near Billy Bishop Airport, where conference attendees will be arriving.

According to Mazurkewich, the innovation scene north of the border is much more inclusive than what’s happening in Silicon Valley, pointing out how much of it is about helping people, the economy and the local ecosystem. That “meaningful” aspect of innovation was the thrust behind incorporating the term so prominently into the campaign tagline.

“There’s a lack of public trust with entrepreneurship and innovation that the robots are coming to take our jobs, but it’s actually about changing people’s lives for the better,” says Kevin Twomey, marketing director at MaRS. When it comes to the campaign, Twomey says agency partner Huge addressed such concerns by identifying the companies and startups that would have the greatest emotional impact and resonate with people. He says MaRS wanted this campaign to get people inspired and motivated by the innovation happening in Toronto, and to perhaps even inspire future entrepreneurs.

MaRS Discovery District will also release branded content in June that will go into more detail about the startups profiled in the spot. It will also run a photo exhibition at Pearson Airport, profiling 11 of Ontario’s leading startups and entrepreneurs.

“Make Innovation Mean Something,” which is running for the next month, was developed by agency Huge, with media strategy, planning and buying handled by sister IPG agency Media Experts.