2020 Digital AOY Gold: FCB puts creativity above capabilities

The five-time Gold winner believes without effective ideas, everything else is irrelevant.

FCB - Group Photo

This story originally appeared in the Nov/Dec 2020 issue of strategy.

One might assume that FCB Canada – this year’s Gold Digital AOY winner for the fifth time in as many years – has relentlessly invested in “capabilities.”

Not exactly, says Bryan Kane, the former Publicis exec who became FCB’s first Canadian president in September 2019. In fact, Kane, who oversees FCB’s Toronto and Montreal offices (as well as its production arm, Fuel Content) says the agency has been more focused on helping clients solve their business problems through creativity.

“The tendency is for agencies to continue to hunt for capabilities,” he says. Even though the shop of around 150 has been scaling its content offering, while also bringing more data-driven insights and automation to the fore, Kane says the goal is not to participate in a capabilities “arms race” with other agencies, but rather to “make sure we arm our creatives with [the specific] capabilities they need to bring an idea to life.” “Our core is not necessarily something we look to change from year to year,” Kane adds. “It’s about understanding what value we create for our clients. And that’s just mind-blowing ideas that propel their businesses forward.”

Over the last year, FCB took steps to ensure its creatives have the resources they need at the North American level. Following Tyler Turnbull’s promotion to group CEO of the network in Canada and New York last year – with a mandate to promote collaboration – Kane was hired to embark on a similar mission in Canada.

Soon after, Nancy Crimi-Lamanna was elevated from her CCO position in Toronto to leading creative for the whole of FCB Canada – a new country-level role for the agency with the goal to further share resources and develop deeper ties with FCB’s creative teams across its five offices in Toronto, Montreal, New York, Chicago and San Francisco.

Through its new model, FCB can pull talent in from other offices to work on briefs for business pitches that sit within North America, says Crimi-Lamanna. And, twice a year, the group’s lead creatives come together in the form of a global creative council to workshop ideas.

“It gives us access to briefs we may not typically get, and it gives our creative talent the ability to work on really high profile projects,” she says. “But it also allows smaller offices like San Francisco… to pull our talent as they need and as resources allow.”

Brands’ need for effective creative ideas has only grown stronger with the pandemic, says Crimi- Lamanna. For example, new client McCain was looking to put more spend towards digital as COVID-19 kept many people at home – but it knew its audience (younger content consumers) dread pre-roll ads.

So the agency created a “McCain Golden Oven” digital contest for the CPG brand that reflected the experience of waiting for fries to come out of the oven. Patient viewers who watched two-to-ten-minute-long pre-roll ads in their entirety could win an assortment of high-end prizes.

In another instance, for AB-InBev’s low-cal beer brand Michelob Ultra, the agency targeted “social actives” (a group that cares about what goes into their bodies, but that still want to enjoy a beer post-workout) by tapping into their desire to share workout results on social. Its “Cal for Cal” campaign transformed the calories people burned during a workout into calories of food to be donated to food banks across the country. Beer fans participated by simply taking a screenshot of their phone or fitness tracker and posting it on social.

When COVID-19 hit and the need for food banks began to rise, the program was relaunched to reach an audience stuck at home using live online workouts. It was later extended across North America, resulting in 770 million calories donated.

“The majority of clients don’t really care about what capabilities we have. It’s ultimately the ideas that we can bring forward – and then how you do that becomes relevant,” Kane says. “Unless you’re bringing forward those incredible ideas that change the landscape for a client – the rest is irrelevant.”

New key business: Sobeys; Sephora; HBC; GoodLife Fitness; McCain Foods; Mike’s Hard; YWCA; Lassonde Pharma.

New hires: Bryan Kane, president; Jordan Gladman, ACD; Eline Goethals, strategy director; Travis Metcalfe, integrated production lead; Jessica Lax, VP, group account director.

Staff: 146

To see the agency’s winning cases, visit the AOY website