The A-List: Initiative

Doubling down on innovation and creating cultural velocity
Initiative took over the large-format digital screens at Toronto’s Yonge-Dundas Square to spread the word about Amazon Prime Video’s Borat Subsequent Moviefilm release. It also launched a massive, unmissable Borat-themed barge into Lake Ontario.

Initiative took over the large-format digital screens at Toronto’s Yonge-Dundas Square to spread the word about Amazon Prime Video’s Borat Subsequent Moviefilm release. It also launched a massive, unmissable Borat-themed barge into Lake Ontario.

After coming off a momentous 2019 in which it picked up Gold Media Agency of the Year and Cannes Lion statuettes, Initiative opted out of last year’s awards submissions. “We wanted to take the energy that goes into [pursuing] awards and put it back into our people and clients,” explains Canadian president Helen Galanis.

Instead, the agency’s Toronto-based office decided it wanted to be an island of stability in a landscape of uncertainty. That meant turning the focus inwards towards the development of staff; a renewed attention on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI); and initiatives designed to create a culture of support and innovation.

Recognizing WeTransfer as a creative destination for working professionals and artists of all types, Canada Goose tapped into the platform and its audience with high-impact premium rotational video in a brand-safe environment.

Recognizing WeTransfer as a creative destination for working professionals and artists of all types, Canada Goose tapped into the platform and its audience with high-impact premium rotational video in a brand-safe environment.

Those moves proved just as beneficial to clients.

“We elevated our role, becoming not just media partners but marketing partners,” says Galanis. “We’ve gotten to a richer level of engagement across a number of clients.”

And that roster continued to grow last year, adding Nintendo and the Government of Ontario, and earning the media business for the Black Professionals in Tech Network.

The Lego Dungeons of Shintaro board game campaign gave kids the power to create new stories and enjoy new ways of playing with their Ninjago sets. Initiative used interactive video to let them choose their path through a variety of actions (click, drag, scroll, shake, etc.) and customize their experience.

The Lego Dungeons of Shintaro board game campaign gave kids the power to create new stories and enjoy new ways of playing with their Ninjago sets. Initiative used interactive video to let them choose their path and customize their experience.

Initiative helped keep the chaos at bay with a new offering called Demand Forecaster, which uses historic data and analytics to offer clients reliable market insights. “Clients were generally getting blanket advice in the industry,” observes chief strategy officer Nish Shah. “It was: ‘Just don’t go dark.’ And, for some, that wasn’t a viable option. If we can provide a way to model what demand might look like, you can forecast better and determine the best way to proceed that was specific to a brand’s situation. Why not use data to make more informed decisions?”

Data certainly plays a central role in the agency’s new content offering, a capability significantly built out in 2020. One beneficiary was Travel Alberta. In a Q4 campaign called “The Art of Winter,” Initiative worked with The Globe and Mail and 11 local artists to create 10 new works of art interpreting Alberta’s winter.

Travel Alberta knew vacationing wasn’t an option for Canadians stuck at home, so it partnered with Initiative and The Globe & Mail on “The Art of Winter.” The campaign recruited 10 local artists to create a multimedia hub of original poetry, installations, paintings and music to get readers dreaming about travel again.

Travel Alberta knew vacationing wasn’t an option for Canadians stuck at home, so it partnered with Initiative and The Globe & Mail on “The Art of Winter.” The campaign recruited 10 local artists to create a multimedia hub of original poetry, installations, paintings and music to get readers dreaming about travel again.

“The data showed consumers were still dreaming about travel,” recalls Shah. “So, we thought, ‘What if we show different artists’ perspectives on how beautiful Alberta is?’”

The creative was hosted on a dedicated hub and the campaign was driven by social, where it resonated with thousands of shares and high engagement.

For Wendy’s “#GrownWithLove” campaign, cameras and speakers were installed in a Wendy’s greenhouse so that Tweets tagged #GrownWithLove could be read to the lettuce twice a day. It was an innovative way of addressing sustainability that harnessed the power of social media.

For Wendy’s “#GrownWithLove” campaign, cameras and speakers were installed in a Wendy’s greenhouse so Tweets tagged #GrownWithLove could be read to the lettuce. It was an innovative way to address sustainability using social media.

The Wendy’s “#GrownWithLove” campaign, meanwhile, spoke to the QSR’s new environmentally friendly greenhouse-grown lettuce and was rooted in the science that when you speak to your plants, they do better. The campaign was launched with McCann and driven by Twitter engagement. Consumers could Tweet messages that would be read to the plants.

“It spoke to what sustainability looks like for Wendy’s,” observes VP client advice, head of Learning and Culture Ishma Alexander-Huet. “It’s an example of being able to take consumer and cultural insights and turn them into a relevant and engaging campaign idea.”

Initiative labels its philosophy Cultural Velocity, which threads its way through every aspect of the agency. It speaks to different cultural pathways including: Cultural Agitation (challenge the status quo), Cultural Collision (pair two usually disparate things), Cultural Proximity (demonstrate hyper-local knowledge and understanding), Cultural Spotlights (highlight overlooked but important issues) and Cultural Contributors (use data to enact positive cultural change).

You could see it at work during the Amazon Prime Video release of Borat Subsequent Moviefilm. Initiative launched an integrated campaign for the film that had Borat literally everywhere. (In one execution, a massive Borat-themed barge was launched into Lake Ontario.) “We needed to create a ton of cultural relevance,” notes Shah, “and it was unmissable. We received a lot of earned media pick-up.”

The RBC “#CanadaUnited” campaign was a nationwide movement leveraging digital engagement as the currency of success. The goal was to support the local small businesses economy and create momentum to spend locally

The RBC “#CanadaUnited” campaign was a national movement leveraging digital engagement to support the local small businesses economy and create momentum to spend locally.

Not all the agency’s best work last year was on screen. Galanis is especially proud of what Initiative accomplished on the DEI front, helping to shape an industry for all creatives and consumers. The agency even audited a client’s targeting parameters to see if they remained sound.

Says Alexander-Huet, “When you overlaid them against different segments within the community, those interests under-indexed in every single segment. We realized that, inadvertently, the targeting parameters were contributing to exclusion. And that’s not specific to the client. It’s industry-wide.”

Bigger-picture thinking and better tools can only help messages resonate more. So when it comes to efforts like these, notes Alexander-Huet, “There is no final destination. It’s about being more conscious and better than yesterday.”

CONTACT:
Helen Galanis
President
Helen.Galanis@initiative.com

The 2021 A-Listers:

Intro

Zulu Alpha Kilo: from strength to strength

Target: natural born storytellers

doug&partners: ready for whatever’s next

UM: winning in an uncertain world

C&B: connecting on a deeper level

Media Experts: shaping what’s next

Giants & Gentlemen: the power of unwavering philosophy

Wunderman Thompson: a multidisciplinary service offering

DDB: the power of informed creative

Citizen Relations: making every conversation count