2019 Digital AOY Gold: FCB goes back to Gold

How the four-time winning agency is maintaining momentum with the help of data and digital sister shop FCB/Six.

FCB Group Photo

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

FCB Canada proved good things come in fours. Every year, since 2016, the advertising firm has stepped up to the Gold podium to claim the top Digital prize.

It’s an impressive four-peat considering FCB Toronto was reported to have “fallen on hard times” and had become “an agency in decline” following the loss of TD, which initiated a leadership shake-up in 2014. To weather that storm, the shoes of outgoing veterans (CCO Robin Heisey and CEO Paul Mead) were filled by incoming leaders (FCB CEO Tyler Turnbull, FCB/Six president Andrea Cook, as well as CCOs Nancy Crimi-Lamanna and Jeff Hilts).

The shop quickly defied the laws of gravity, moving up and away from difficult times to land BMW, BMO and Home Depot as clients. The awards circuit has also been kind to the agency. In 2019, FCB Canada brought home five Lions from Cannes, making it the most awarded Canadian agency on la Croissette’s red carpet, two years in a row.

“When [the new leadership team] started in Toronto, we set a vision to build an agency that we always wanted to work for,” says Tyler Turnbull, just days after his September promotion to CEO of FCB North America was revealed. “Most of us had worked with many different companies, from independent agencies to networks and even client side. What unified us was that desire to make the best creative work of our careers.”

No doubt one of FCB’s strongest aces is FCB/Six. Many of those trophies from Cannes were inscribed with the digital and CRM shop’s name, right beside cultural collective Black & Abroad and its campaign, “Go Back to Africa.” FCB can also thank Six and its data-rich program for securing the 2019 Digital Campaign of the Year, catapulting the shop to the top of the AOY ranks.

The work is an “expression of our vision as an agency” which is “individualized brands at scale,” says Ian MacKenzie, who also boasts a new title. The recently named CCO says FCB/Six “revels in finding interesting lever points between technical complexity, messaging complexity and creative storytelling,” which “Go Back to Africa” delivered in spades.

Few agencies find jolly in the arduous task of plotting and navigating complex consumer journeys. So it’s no surprise, then, that 30% of FCB/Six business is now tied to clients in the pharma, health and wellness categories. “When you think about the space there’s tremendous complexity to the messaging matrix,” says MacKenzie, adding that his agency has developed an “appreciation and bedrock” for mapping the intersecting journeys of healthcare professionals and patients.

FCB/Six has grown its pharma base organically through Johnson & Johnson and now bills 15 over-the-counter J&J brands, as well as the company’s Visioncare, Consumer and Surgical arms, says president Andrea Cook. It’s done this by proving its expertise in the field of one-to-one marketing – via other targeted campaigns like PFLAG’s “Destination Pride” – and positioning itself to meet the demands of the growing industry, says Cook.

“[Pharma is] a vertical that [historically] shied away from technology and data pretty heavily, for obvious regulatory reasons. But I think, as people are able to better access information about their health – it’s caused an evolution in the way that pharmaceutical companies market themselves.”

Cook adds that some of the marketing fundamentals typically applied in other categories, like finance and automotive, are lost on pharma. For example, the agency recently faced a compliance issue when it recommended a brand use texts to remind people to take their medication. “We didn’t think to ask the question because we assumed it [had been done before]… But SMS applied to that scenario was groundbreaking.”

“We’ve gotten feedback from [our pharma] clients who love the outside perspective of other businesses,” says Cook. “Some of our most successful campaigns have been when we stopped the presses on the way they traditionally market to healthcare professionals [and patients] and do it in a way that we would in [other categories.]”

Though the industry has some catching up to do on best practices, MacKenzie doesn’t doubt there’s lots of innovation happening (particularly within biotech) and so “it makes sense for us to work with companies that are on the frontier of their disciplines” – just as FCB/Six looks to be at the vanguard of data, tech and creativity.

New business
The Home Depot, BMO Acquisition, Tilray, Lottomax, Altea, Vitamin Water, Tresemme, J&J Visioncare, Consumer and Surgical, Kjiji, Kaleo, Novartis, Babyshark, Genpact, SiriusXM

New hires
Jonathan Careless, Tory McGuinness, Jennifer Rossini, Les Soos, Group CDs; Tim Welsh, VP, managing director; Rob Sturch, CD; Paul Hanlon, director, strategy; Sylvain Dufresne, VP,
head of creative


AOY cases

Screen Shot 2019-08-22 at 11.00.39 AM

The agency was the creative catalyst for the “Go Back To Africa” campaign for Black & Abroad. It took hateful online content and reworked it to become headlines that reclaimed the slur, creating hyper-targeted ads for each of Africa’s 54 countries. Google AI pulled from thousands of images to create what was missing in travel ads – people of color visiting tourism spots in Africa. Customized ads were served (based on online behaviour) and interest for the brand’s Africa Tours spiked. The ads also drove back to GoBackToAfrica.com, a first-of-its-kind socially sourced content platform that aimed to displace the racism and hate.

Screen Shot 2019-10-01 at 1.13.17 PM

To reflect its commitment to renewable energy, Gaz Metro thought it was time for a new name: Énergir was rolled out with a campaign that signaled the brand’s awareness of the changing (climate) times.


FCB had Fountain Tire staff paint themselves and create a font that would be used by football fans to cheer on the Edmonton Oilers across social media.