The Indie List: Brave New World

Toronto's Zulu Alpha Kilo plans to lead the way to 2030...and beyond
At the outset of lockdown, the agency created the in-house #StayHome campaign, designed to spread awareness of best pandemic practices – winning praise from both Buzzfeed and the United Nations.

At the outset of lockdown, the agency created the in-house #StayHome campaign, designed to spread awareness of best pandemic practices – winning praise from both Buzzfeed and the United Nations.

The global pandemic has many shops re-evaluating how they work, but indie trailblazer Zulu Alpha Kilo had already been asking these existential questions long before COVID. Over a year ago, it began an internal initiative dubbed ‘Reengineering for 2030,’ plotting the agency’s best path forward into the future. Part of that, notes founder Zak Mroueh, was distilling its strengths and getting to the core of what makes it unique in today’s complex landscape.

In the end, Zulu determined it was in the bravery business –always had been.

“Zulu was founded on being fearless and encouraging clients to take creative leaps that are grounded in a great strategy,” he recalls. “When we’ve done our best work, it’s been partnering with clients that want to do things differently and shake up their categories.”

In December, the agency launched an epic video with the holidayspirited “Carol of the Bells” instrumental brought to life with rings, dings and ping notifications featuring Bell technology through the ages.

In December, the agency launched an epic video with the holiday spirited “Carol of the Bells” instrumental brought to life with rings, dings and ping notifications featuring Bell technology through the ages.

From opting out of creative spec pitches to pushing clients out of their comfort zone, Zulu has developed a reputation for being a fearless industry outlier for over a decade. And it plans to spread that nonconformist spirit globally through expansion of its 130-person team into other markets.

At the beginning of the crisis, it was one of the first agencies to get fresh creative out in the face of COVID. It worked with long-time client Subaru to scrap a planned campaign and run one of the first thank you messages to front line workers instead. An Environics research study singled out Zulu’s Subaru campaign as the “gold standard” for advertising during a crisis.

For Goldfish, the imaginations of three children were brought to life – as an illustrated book, an interactive video game, and a painting transformed into a large city mural.

For Goldfish, the imaginations of three children were brought to life – as an illustrated book, an interactive video game, and a painting transformed into a large city mural.

Similar messages from other brands followed, but agency president Mike Sutton points out that it wasn’t just the creative, it was the speed. It was working with the client to do something different, at exactly the time when it would make a difference.

“During COVID, the clients that have been decisive and moved quickly have benefited the most,” he says.

“Part of our reengineering is all about moving at lightning speed. In this brave new world that we envision, what our clients want is breakthrough, brilliant, business-building work without the bureaucracy and dragged-out timelines. And that’s what we’re built for. We think it’s the new reality – even when we return to the office.”

When the Advertising and Design Club of Canada faced hard times, Zulu conceived a 24-hour fundraiser that featured a ton of content and some of the industry’s heaviest hitters, including David Droga and Alex Bogusky. The Club raised the funds needed to survive.

When the Advertising and Design Club of Canada faced hard times, Zulu conceived a 24-hour fundraiser that featured a ton of content and some of the industry’s heaviest hitters, including David Droga and Alex Bogusky. The Club raised the funds needed to survive.

You see a similarly ambitious response in Zulu’s efforts to save the Advertising and Design Club of Canada – a body that was faced with shutting its doors due to COVID when it approached the agency for help. Zulu came up with the idea of a 24-hour live fundraising event.

To pull it off, the agency would have to create a full 24-hour’s worth of content. “It scared the hell out of the client and our production team. It came back to bravery,” Mroueh recalls. “What would it take to execute it? And then everyone started thinking: ‘Okay, well, if we did this, if we did that’…suddenly, it was about what could be done versus the fear of doing it.” The final live stream featured high-profile global names (including David Droga and Alex Bogusky), and successfully raised the needed funds.

With the world stuck at home, Zulu worked with Cineplex on “Projecting Hope” to recapture the joy of going to the movies – with How to Train Your Dragon screening outdoors on the 40-foot wall of the YMCA in downtown Toronto.

With the world stuck at home, Zulu worked with Cineplex on “Projecting Hope” to recapture the joy of going to the movies – with How to Train Your Dragon screening outdoors on the 40-foot wall of the YMCA in downtown Toronto.

Zulu worked with Cineplex on “Projecting Hope” to recapture the joy of going to the movies for those locked down by the pandemic. And it created the in-house #StayHome campaign, creating awareness of best pandemic practices – winning praise from both Buzzfeed and the United Nations.

They ‘Set the Tone’ for new client Harry Rosen with a campaign that demonstrated how we could all be better role models – connecting dressing your best with giving your best.

They ‘Set the Tone’ for new client Harry Rosen with a campaign that demonstrated how we could all be better role models – connecting dressing your best with giving your best.

On the new business front, the indie shop won Harry Rosen and launched “Set the Tone”, a new brand platform focusing on the belief that when people dress with confidence, they feel their best – and give their best. Zulu also picked up the Campbell’s Goldfish Crackers business and The Ottawa Senators account.

homeequity

For HomeEquity Bank, Zulu launched a scam-fighting campaign to educate the institution’s older demo about fraudsters, featuring Frank Abagnale, the charismatic con man who inspired the Hollywood film Catch Me If You Can.

For HomeEquity Bank, it launched a scam-fighting digital masterclass to educate the institution’s older demo about fraudsters, featuring Frank Abagnale, the charismatic con man who inspired the Hollywood film Catch Me If You Can.

Subaru recorded their greatest Outback sales of all time with the launch of the G.O.O.A.T. campaign. The unconventional idea earned four Golds and Best of Show at the CMA awards.

Subaru recorded their greatest Outback sales of all time with the launch of the G.O.O.A.T. campaign. The unconventional idea earned four Golds and Best of Show at the CMA awards.

For a third year in a row, Zulu was recognized as one of Canada’s Best Managed Companies by Deloitte. At the Ad Age Small Agency Awards in 2020, it was the most awarded shop with three Golds for a diverse body of work. And the agency won Canada’s only Gold at the Warc Media Awards for “The Away Game” for Tim Hortons. They topped off the year winning Best of Show at the Canadian Marketing Awards for their Subaru Outback G.O.O.A.T. campaign.

“There are a lot of good agencies that do great creative,” Mroueh sums up. “But for us, it’s all about having passion and rolling up our sleeves to be there for our clients – encouraging each other to be fearless, make brave choices and collectively push for greatness.

 

CONTACT:
Mike Sutton
President
INeedANewAgency@zulualphakilo.com