2019 AOY Silver: BBDO dissects creativity

How the Toronto shop is inspiring creativity via a "Factory" workshop to come up with work that uniquely addresses business challenges.

BBDO Group Photo

This story originally appeared in the November/December 2019 issue of strategy.

The spot begins like any other back-to-school commercial, with grateful children talking about their slick new “essentials.” It lands like a gut punch when we learn their school supplies will not be used in class or for homework, but to escape an active shooter.

BBDO New York produced the chilling PSA for Sandy Hook Promise, a U.S. non-profit, as children were returning back to school in September, reminding their parents of the dangers posed by gun violence.

Later, the spot became fodder for the minds at BBDO Toronto, where it was shared among creatives and strategists during a recent meeting of the “factory.”

Every two weeks, agency staffers meet to dissect the strategy and cultural insights behind powerful creative, often for an hour or more. Strategists, account managers and technologists have attended these meetings, though they are mostly intended for the creative department, says BBDO Toronto’s Denise Rossetto, who runs the sessions alongside co-CCO Todd Mackie. “We normally get 20 to 25 passionate people. We eat a lot of Doritos.”

The Sandy Hook Promise spot happened to come from within the BBDO network, but work discussed at the meetings can come from any agency around the world. The team reviews the work, deciding what they love and what they hate as they interrogate the power of certain creative campaigns, she says.

Rossetto and Mackie, who joined BBDO as ECDs in 2015, began hosting the gatherings two years ago. They serve as an opportunity to have “really healthy debates,” says Mackie. “Half the department might hate it, and they’ll tell us why. The other half thinks it’s brilliant [and] that it’s going to get Cannes Lions.”

According to the CCOs, inspiration is the lifeblood of a creative agency. It’s what separates the cold shops from the hot ones in an industry where success can feel like a rollercoaster ride, adds CEO Dom Caruso.

The existence of the “factory” is proof of the philosophical influence BBDO New York has had on the Toronto-based creative shop. According to Rossetto, BBDO global chief creative officer David Lubars puts it this way: never let the cement dry and maintain the ethos of a “boutique network.”

As a relatively small market, Canada is particularly susceptible to the whims of globalization, says Caruso, with clients slashing the number of markets in which they do original work. “For any network agency [in Canada], the amount of business that you have with a global account is trending down, not trending up,” he says. “That means, for us, we need to compete and win here with Canadian-based clients.”

BBDO recently attracted local clients, such as Metrolinx and non-profit Right to Play, for which it created the award-winning “We Rise” campaign. It’s also now doing work for Organigram, Hudson’s Bay (which hasn’t worked with an external agency for some time) and Baycrest Foundation in Toronto, which “wants to be the SickKids of dementia,” according to Caruso.

Caruso adds that recent work for the Regent Park School of Music (RPSM) shows how the agency uses creativity to think about a business outcome – like raising funds for at-risk youth – in a new way.

For RSPM, the shop innovated the charitable fundraising model by working with students to record Parkscapes, an 11-song album of compositions and samples, which generates licensing fees and royalties every time one of its tracks is sampled in a song that’s sold or played on the radio. After being shown the work by producer DJ Frank Dukes, Taylor Swift included samples from Parkscapes in her album Lover, extending the fundraising efforts well beyond the campaign.

“It’s basically driving the behaviour that we want in the end, which is to make money,” Caruso says. “It’s not hifalutin stuff, but it has helped build the brand along the way.”

Key new business
Keilhauer, Metrolinx, Organigram, Canadian Red Cross, Ontario Lung Association, RBC Rewards, Rogers Ignite TV, Hudson’s Bay Company, Fuzz Wax Bar, Ford

Key hires
Ryan Lawrence, ACD; Michael Carey, Matt Doran, CWs; Danielle Zablockie, Cameron Hopkins, ADs; Aaron Arellano, Colin Kikcio, senior planners; Stacey Horricks, senior content planner; Alexandra Jo Heller, planner; Justin Seegobin, VP, group account director; Danielle Lew, account executive


AOY Cases


M&Ms needed a new tagline for a new chocolate bar, so BBDO stole one. The brand’s original “Melts in your mouth, not in your hand” didn’t make sense when it launched the M&M’s Chocolate Bars. So the shop took KFC’s “Finger Lickin’ Good” tag and posted a tweet about the melt-in-your-hands product. When the colonel got involved, the two brands playfully hashed it out over Twitter and ultimately decided the iconic “Finger Lickin’ Good” tagline was better kept with the chicken chain.


To shine a light on Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, the agency partnered with the Ontario Lung Association to create “UnFun Balloons” so people could test for the condition in the comfort of their home.

In today’s streaming era, BBDO created a campaign that convinced people to upgrade to Rogers Ignite TV, using the star power of celebs and repositioning the cable box as an all-in-one content box.

For GO Transit, the shop aimed to convert city drivers by promoting the bus as an autonomous car, playing up the R&R benefits of self-driving vehicles, like reading rather than stressing over traffic.

A campaign for Right to Play showed how youth in war-stricken and impoverished countries can reclaim their childhood through sport and play.