2019 Strategy Awards: What’s old is new again

Brands build on long-running platforms by adding a twist, plus tips on how to win with niche audiences.

This story originally appeared in the October 2019 issue of

This week, strategy is taking a deep dive into the insights and plans that led to success for the winners of the 2019 Strategy Awards. Find more in-depth looks at the successful plans here.

New spin on an old strategy

There’s no need to reinvent the wheel when you can add a new spin to it. Or, in IKEA Canada’s case, turn what was once a love letter to disposability into a celebration of circularity.

Back in 2002, the retailer and filmmaker Spike Jonze famously spun a tale of (tough) love in a TV spot that showed the heartbreak of a discarded lamp on the street. “Lamp” overtly told people to throw out their old furniture and buy something new. But the world is changing and, in 2019, disposable furniture is considered passé.

The retailer had been doing good for people in tandem with the planet for several years, but it had not been as great at communicating its mission to become a leader in climate-positive products. IKEA’s wants to become a fully circular business within the next decade. So, to demonstrate its commitment to the future, the brand had to face its past.

Working with Rethink, it brought back the iconic lamp. The team created a sequel to the original creative by showing a little girl who finds the forgotten item and gives it a second life in her home. For those who weren’t familiar with the 2002 spot, the brand aired it on TV and online before the “Lamp Recycled” sequel debuted. IKEA also rolled out a sell-back program in stores to incentivize people to bring back their used furniture to be refurbished and re-sold.

The retailer put its bottom line on the, well, line, but the risk paid off. More than 200 media outlets covered news of the sell-back program and IKEA received over 10,000 applications in the first three months. Despite telling people to not buy its products, the brand lifted sales by 4%. Following the campaign, IKEA saw its highest levels of brand equity and the planning insight work earned a Bronze Creative Catalyst nod in the process.

WestJetAnother brand with growing ambitions, WestJet was beginning to launch into new global territory. It had always been known as a low-cost domestic carrier, but needed to build its profile as a global airline.

WestJet’s “Christmas Miracle” program – which first saw airline staffers dance and sing in an orchestrated flash mob, back when they were a thing in 2013 – has been a successful annual brand-building event for the last six years. Miracles have generally been granted to locals, but because the brand was expanding globally, it decided to expand the campaign well beyond Canada’s borders.

The team at Studio M looked for common traditions that would unite people around the world (in fact, 160 countries) over Christmas. The brand landed on a universal truth when it comes to the holidays: no matter where a person is in the world, spending time with loved ones is the most important tradition.

The insight was used to build the “United Through Traditions” campaign, where WestJet’s Blue Santa flew across six continents using the airline’s global fleet. He created a unique documentary-style video every day, from surfing in Australia and feasting in France to delivering Christmas gifts to villages in Haiti. During his content-filled journey, Blue Santa also surprised unsuspecting guests with family reunions in England.

On its own, the campaign generated $11 million in sales, which was more than $12 in immediate revenue for every dollar invested. That’s an ROI of 1,257% (which is why the campaign won a Bronze in ROI Strategy). Overall, the effort led to a 27% increase in sales year-over-year and proved that old ideas can be made to feel young again.


Snickers’ social swagger

The NBA tunnel walk. It’s one of the most talked about moments in the league. Which is exactly why Snickers hijacked then-Toronto Raptor Delon Wright’s tunnel stroll for a viral stunt.

One day, Wright was photographed strutting through the tunnel while sporting an outrageously oversized suit. It was as if someone had taken over his body. Confused fans reacted online, with Raptors commentators questioning Wright’s fashion choice in the media.

However, the next day, the Raptors, Wright and Snickers posted a video revealing that the fashion faux pas was actually a hunger mistake and, after eating a Snickers, Wright was back to himself. BBDO’s fresh take on the brand’s “You’re Not You When You’re Hungry” platform helped it stand out in a sea of sponsors, generating 1.5 million unique engagements, with “Suit Swag” taking home a Bronze in Social Strategy.

How to win with niche audiences


There really is no escaping the rush of new mattress brand entrants, many of which like to blanket the internet with awareness campaigns. The only way IKEA could be heard was to wait for its competitors to be quiet. Somehow, our culture has prioritized being busy (or simply getting sucked into a Youtube rabbit hole) when they should be sleeping. So IKEA and Rethink reminded people of the importance of sleep while they were avoiding it, with ads that ran on YouTube between 10:30pm and 3:30am. IKEA’s Swedish spokesman interrupted viewers by asking why they were up watching cat videos or sports highlights, and gave them the time, noting when IKEA would be open again so they could purchase a better mattress in the morning. Whispering sweet Swedish nothings in sleepy ears worked, and the campaign led to a 17% increase in traffic to IKEA.ca, as well as a Gold in Connection Strategy and a Silver in Data/Tech.


Following Italy’s defeat to Sweden in the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying round, Montreal expected a major blow to its businesses. It’s Little Italy neighbourhood had to attract sports fans (and counteract anticipated losses) by getting them to re-engage in the games. Italian pride is passionate and dramatic, and so the idea was to leverage that bitterness by asking people to support “Anyone But Sweden” during the event. Rethink created banners, posters, collateral, branded gear and a broadcast schedule for people to watch all of Sweden’s games. A scarf was also made from flags of every participating team, except the Swede’s. They even bought an ad in a Swedish paper on their national day to tease them. Content was captured at different bars, cafés and stores. In the end, bar sales increased 21%, and the campaign generated more than 350 million media impressions, leading it to win a Silver in Niche Strategy.


To highlight its commitment to diversity and inclusion, IKEA Canada became a Pride sponsor and identified its own unique connection to drag culture. Rethink found that drag queens were transforming the retailer’s products into outfits as a form of creative expression. So the team connected with some of Canada’s most well-known drag queens and gave them free rein to create something beautiful out of IKEA merch. The result was a Silver Niche Strategy-winning campaign called “IKEA DRÄG,” which included a live event that was supported by influencers, online video and social posts. The drag queens first debuted their looks at a fashion show and were then featured in an OOH campaign. The experience was live-streamed during the week leading up to the annual Pride parade in Toronto, and IKEA launched “DRÄG” as a social video, which quickly became the brand’s most-watched piece of content.

Truck Thrus

The commercial trucking segment is a crucial vertical to Fountain Tire’s business. However, fleet owners view tires as a costly expense and end up having a transactional relationship with the retailer. Fountain Tire wanted to show that it wasn’t just a vendor, but an invested partner. To help reduce the cost of downtime (a commercial fleet’s most expensive problem), the brand and FCB created a drive-thru that truckers could “Truck-Thru” instead of having to leave their vehicles. The 20-foot stall was constructed exclusively for fleets, serving them free coffee and snacks. The Silver-winning Connection Strategy entailed highway ads, announcements on truckers’ CB radio, and pamphlets were given out at nearby rest-stops to target the hard-to-reach audience.

Earning Cyurve

Technology has led to new platforms and payment systems for merchants. Interac has services specifically designed to help small businesses navigate these changes, but many are unaware of its offerings. When it comes to advice, entrepreneurs tend to trust their peers. So Interac and Zulu Alpha Kilo created a branded podcast, called Earning Curve, that offered thought leadership in the form of business stories, which were easily digestible. Dragons’ Den entrepreneur Michele Romanow hosted the podcast, and social videos and audio trailers introduced the show’s premise, guests and topics. The content-driven approach led to 90% of listeners feeling that Interac understands the needs of small businesses. The work also picked up a Silver in Content Strategy and a Bronze in Niche Strategy.


Within the Chinese community, health problems are viewed as a family responsibility. Connect Hearing usually promotes its hearing solutions to a mainstream audience by putting the onus on the individual, so a different approach was required to connect with this new demo. The tag became “stay connected with your loved ones,” with the strategy emphasizing the importance of maintaining family relationships as a person ages. A series of ads – one of which shows a grandmother having trouble hearing her family – encouraged booking free hearing tests at the local clinic. The “Hard to Hear” campaign, by Captus Advertising, reflected the diminished quality of life that happens when auditory health is neglected and drove a 20% increase in appointments. It also won a Bronze in Multicultural Strategy.

Sugar Crisp

Sugar-Crisp had previously connected with millennials by tapping into their nostalgia for the brand’s commercials from the ‘90s. However, this strategy didn’t gel with Gen Z, as they hadn’t grown up with the ads. So Sugar-Crisp looked to gaming as a way in with 18- to 24-year-olds. Eating cereal while gaming is common practice with this group, but it also leads to sticky fingers, which impedes game play. So the “Sugar-Crisp Spout” was devised to let a gamer pour cereal directly into their mouth. Ogilvy helped the brand create a blatantly fake influencer, who promoted the Spout online. Around 3,000 were given away and the program (which won a Silver in Content Strategy) led to a 15% sales boost, versus the previous month.

Correction: This story incorrectly credited Rethink for the “Uniting Through Traditions” WestJet campaign in the October print issue, when in fact Studio M was the lead agency behind the work. Strategy regrets the error.