The Indie List: Target’s secret sauce to longevity

Canada's longest-running indie has spent 40 years on a road less travelled
Over four decades of storytelling, Target has repeatedly proven the value of avoiding cookie-cutter thinking, as evident in the impact of its Tango branding work. Launched in 2001, an era when 97% of airlines had geography-based names, “Say Hello to Tango” was a breakout success. Target created the brand positioning (freedom of movement) and personality (fresh and fun), plus the Tango brand name, aircraft livery design, and everything from napkins to national advertising. Robert Milton, who was president of Air Canada at the time, described Tango as “one of the most successful new brand launches in airline history.”

Over four decades of storytelling, Target has repeatedly proven the value of avoiding cookie-cutter thinking, as evident in the impact of its Tango branding work. Launched in 2001, an era when 97% of airlines had geography-based names, “Say Hello to Tango” was a breakout success. Target created the brand positioning (freedom of movement) and personality (fresh and fun), plus the Tango brand name, aircraft livery design, and everything from napkins to national advertising. Robert Milton, who was president of Air Canada at the time, described Tango as “one of the most successful new brand launches in airline history.”

The year was 1980. John Lennon was shot. Richard Pryor set fire to himself while free-basing cocaine. The fax machine was launched. And Terry Fox dipped his artificial leg into the North Atlantic, just outside Target’s building, and started his cross-Canada Marathon of Hope.

“Could there ever have been a less auspicious time to start an ad agency,” mused Noel O’Dea, Target’s founder, a tenured university professor of Marketing at the time, “here on the tip of the continent, the most easterly point in North America.”

Forty years later, there’s still nothing cookie-cutter about the irrepressible Target, one of Canada’s top creative shops.

Teens were media savvy and highly cynical about advertising, even 14 years ago when Target repositioned Rising Crust as a party-in-abox. The ‘Tan Lines’ integrated campaign – including TV, outdoor, and guerilla – took the road less travelled. The results? Record sales volume. Huge buzz. And, before Instagram and TikTok, an irresistible crossover from advertising into pop culture.

Teens were media savvy and highly cynical about advertising, even 14 years ago when Target repositioned Rising Crust as a party-in-abox. The ‘Tan Lines’ integrated campaign – including TV, outdoor, and guerilla – took the road less travelled. The results? Record sales volume. Huge buzz. And, before Instagram and TikTok, an irresistible crossover from advertising into pop culture.

Target’s longevity is clear evidence of its impressive track record in the competitive advertising business. Driven by a strategic and creative philosophy of taking ‘the road less travelled,’ it consistently punches well above its weight for creativity and advertising effectiveness.

To overcome tipsters’ fears of being outed, this integrated campaign for Crime Stoppers leveraged our “universal language of numbers”. Each ad featured a ‘Tipster ID Number’ which animated into a ‘face’ created from the same ID numbers. People got it. Instantly. The ‘Always a Number’ anonymity campaign was a multicultural breakthrough.

To overcome tipsters’ fears of being outed, this integrated campaign for Crime Stoppers leveraged our “universal language of numbers”. Each ad featured a ‘Tipster ID Number’ which animated into a ‘face’ created from the same ID numbers. Peoplegot it. Instantly. The ‘Always a Number’ anonymity campaign was a multicultural breakthrough.

On the awards side, Target was strategy’s first Small Agency of the Year in 2019. It’s a top 16 creative shop again on strategy’s Creative Report Card. Its work has been featured in CA. It’s one of only 20 Canadian agencies to ever win a Gold Lion at Cannes. It’s been awarded multiple Gold CASSIES for advertising effectiveness, including the Grand Prix.

On the client front, Target’s “Find Yourself” campaign for Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism is the most successful and most awarded destination marketing and tourism campaign in North America. Since 2005, the rich cinematic TV spots and digital innovations have won close to 400 awards for creative, brand building and advertising effectiveness.

A wide range of national, international, and regional clients have been attracted by Target’s blend of creativity and strategy, including Maple Leaf and McCain, Nestlé and Unilever, PureGold and Aurora, Irving and Ultramar, Chorus and CHC, Rogers and Bell, Labatt and Molson, and Air Canada Jazz, Zip and Tango.

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Naked Mummer leverages the seemingly absurd contradictions that make Newfoundland an enigma to the world. Avoiding stoner culture, Target developed the strategic compass, and created the memorable brand name and 360º branding design. This powerfully differentiated new brand of premium cannabis is unmistakably rooted in the wordplay of Newfoundland.

“Over the years, we’ve worked across many different customer groups and industries, everything from airlines and banks to cannabis and universities,” says Catherine Kelly, director of account management and a 22-year Target veteran. “As our Target name suggests, we are always laserfocused on identifying the absolute best opportunity for our client – who we speak to, what we say, and how we say it. And it works famously.”

Kelly says the “relentless search by clients for the Holy Grail of brand differentiation and competitive advantage is one thing that hasn’t changed during Target’s 40 years. Because if a brand is undifferentiated, it is nothing but a commodity. Differentiation has always been at the centre of our wheelhouse.”

This unignorable rap video put Newfoundland’s tiniest city on the map. Powered by a comprehensive digital, social media, and publicity campaign, ‘Anthem’ went viral in 2019. It generated notoriety and global media coverage, reaching 97 million and over $350,000 in earned media across North America. In the first 10 days alone.

This unignorable rap video put Newfoundland’s tiniest city on the map. Powered by a comprehensive digital, social media, and publicity campaign, ‘Anthem’ went viral in 2019. It generated notoriety and global media coverage, reaching 97 million and over $350,000 in earned media across North America. In the first 10 days alone.

“We live outside the box, literally,” says Jef Combdon, director of communications planning. “We see things differently. Newfoundland gives us a very unique perspective on how to size up a marketing problem. And that unique lens leads to unconventional and unexpected strategic solutions, 180 degree different from ordinary.”

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This award-winning interactive website engaged visitors to create digital photo books for sharing across social media. It’s a powerful third-party traveller endorsement of this place, and an innovative experiential marketing tool. In 2019, visitors created over 1,500 books. Plus, would-be travellers spent 600 hours on 40,000 page views.

Creative director Jason Hill notes that creativity is a powerful business tool, and Target’s location is an advantage on that front as well. “Newfoundland is overflowing with storytellers, musicians, artists, and a quirky sense of humour. That culture inspires our creative and design work. We love creating advertising that doesn’t look or feel like advertising – like StoryExchange.com, and the Tale Blazers online TV series for Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism.”

IcebergFinder.com is the world’s first mobile-optimized site that tracks icebergs. Using real-time satellite data from NASA, this fully responsive site tracks and displays icebergs drifting along the coast, providing Google Map directions for visitors, and enabling photo sharing. The results? In 2019 alone, over 8.2 million page views, and 500,000 site interactions.

IcebergFinder.com is the world’s first mobile-optimized site that tracks icebergs. Using real-time satellite data from NASA, this fully responsive site tracks and displays icebergs drifting along the coast, providing Google Map directions for visitors, and enabling photo sharing. The results? In 2019 alone, over 8.2 million page views, and 500,000 site interactions.

In this over-communicated world, where people don’t know who or what to believe, Target’s storytelling and its time-tested philosophy and values are proving to be right on the mark. And perhaps even more relevant and differentiating than ever.

After 40 years, Target remains fiercely independent and “working hard to stay small,” says O’Dea. “Our sweet spot is 40 people because there’s no friction, no red tape. Our senior people love to be hands-on, making ads, and building brands. Work should never feel like a root canal.”

“We’re not big,” adds Kelly, “but we are small. And mighty. Work is fun.”

It’s just like O’Dea always says. “We don’t report to New York. We report to no one but our clients. And our Moms.”

CONTACT:
Noel O’Dea
President and Founder
Director of strategic & creative planning
nodea@targetmarketing.ca