Colouring outside the lines

Zulu Alpha Kilo is redefining what an agency is and does
For the launch of Notes IPA from brewery SingleCut, Zulu created a can with a label design based on a guitar fretboard, complete with finger positions for the four basic chords used in rock music and an opening tab in the shape of a guitar pick.

For the launch of Notes IPA from brewery SingleCut, Zulu created a can with a label design based on a guitar fretboard, complete with finger positions for the four basic chords used in rock music and an opening tab in the shape of a guitar pick.

The last 21 months have made it clear that it takes more than a pandemic to take down Toronto’s Zulu Alpha Kilo. In fact, it seems to have pushed them to even greater heights.

“We’ve got really great momentum and have emerged stronger from this pandemic,” says chief creative officer & chairman Zak Mroueh. “We’ve solidified the creative leadership group and made key moves that have set us up for the decade ahead.”

Zulu Alpha Kilo designed the Tough Turban for Pfaff Harley-Davidson with Sikh bikers in mind. It offers the protective properties of a regulation helmet, constructed with a custom fabric that hardens on impact but which can be folded and unfolded.

Zulu Alpha Kilo designed the Tough Turban for Pfaff Harley-Davidson with Sikh bikers in mind. It offers the protective properties of a regulation helmet, constructed with a custom fabric that hardens on impact but which can be folded and unfolded.

Those moves include taking control of its future with the purchase of its own building, as the agency designs a hybrid working space for post-pandemic times. In 2021, Mroueh was also further freed up to focus on the shop’s creative product when he promoted long-time president and partner Mike Sutton to take on his CEO duties.

Since founding the agency in 2008, Mroueh and his team have been building Zulu’s global creative reputation year after year. 2021 was no exception and proved to be the best in the agency’s 13-year history.

Zulu created a campaign for HomeEquity Bank built around vignettes featuring home-owning seniors responding cheekily when their kids or grandkids suggest selling, empowering retirees to stay in the home they love.

Zulu created a campaign for HomeEquity Bank built around vignettes featuring home-owning seniors responding cheekily when their kids or grandkids suggest selling, empowering retirees to stay in the home they love.

The Toronto indie was the most awarded globally at Ad Age’s Small Agency of the Year competition for firms with headcount of 150 and less (Zulu has 130 staff). It took home multiple golds for media innovation and digital, picking up International Agency of the Year silver along the way. Forbes and Fast Company recognized its creative work as among the year’s most innovative.

Across the Atlantic, the UK’s The Drum Awards named ZAK global agency of the year. In Europe, the agency was also Independent Agency of the Year and the most awarded in the world at the Epica Awards, judged by the world’s trade journalists. And finally, the New York Festivals’ 2021 AME Report ranked them number-one agency globally for the effectiveness of their work.

To launch Harry Rosen’s line of men’s grooming products, Zulu changed the retailer’s sign at its flagship Toronto store to “Hairy” Rosen. Prominent tastemakers posted pics of themselves in front of the sign, exceeding the reach and engagement of any previous social campaign by 50% and earning over 40 million media impressions.

To launch Harry Rosen’s line of men’s grooming products, Zulu changed the retailer’s sign at its flagship Toronto store to “Hairy” Rosen. Prominent tastemakers posted pics of themselves in front of the sign, exceeding the reach and engagement of any previous social campaign by 50% and earning over 40 million media impressions.

This international acclaim has come from groundbreaking work such as Notes IPA for Queens, NY-based craft brewer SingleCut. Zulu created four distinct beer labels, each displaying foundational guitar chord finger placements along with a unique custom opening tab in the shape of a guitar pick. Once opened, the pick actually can be used to play a guitar.

For Pfaff Harley-Davidson, the shop created Tough Turban, using technologically advanced Dyneema fabric that can be folded like traditional Sikh headwear but which hardens on impact, thus allowing Sikh motorcyclists to honour their cultural identity while protecting themselves from injury.

For an OOH execution for Subaru, Zulu ventured outside the confines of the media space to visually underline the size of the carmaker’s biggest vehicle.

For an OOH execution for Subaru, Zulu ventured outside the confines of the media space to visually underline the size of the carmaker’s biggest vehicle.

These projects demonstrate how ZAK is colouring outside the lines of the traditional ad agency model by extending its reach into the realms of experience design and product innovation – areas more typically associated with management consultants and industrial design firms.

Zulu’s experience-based ideation can also be seen in much of its other innovative work.

To help HomeEquity Bank and the Legion National Foundation give Canadians a better understanding of the hardships Canadian soldiers endured during WW2, Zulu produced an authentic recreation of a field ration kit and delivered it to people on Remembrance Day through DoorDash.

To help HomeEquity Bank and the Legion National Foundation give Canadians a better understanding of the hardships Canadian soldiers endured during WW2, Zulu produced an authentic recreation of a field ration kit and delivered it to people on Remembrance Day through DoorDash.

Canadians’ spending was erratic and unpredictable during the pandemic’s second year, so for long-time client Interac, Zulu created the “Sound of Spending”– the first digital tool that transforms spending data into musical notes. An algorithm also enabled Canadians to convert their spending into a personal music track. Individuals could then compare their own spending habits against the national average as represented by the soundwave.

To keep clothing retailer Harry Rosen top of mind and drive traffic online in a time of endless video calls, the shop devised a shirt in the same shade of green needed for green-screening. The garment debuted with a video demonstrating its ability to match vibrant fabric patterns with Zoom backgrounds.

“Although the pandemic has made for an odd couple of years, we’re focused on the future and our client partnerships feel stronger. We found another gear strategically and creatively and as a result, many of our clients have had record business results,” says Sutton.

Interac looked to educate Canadians about national spending habits as well as their own, so Zulu used consumer spending data to compose unique musical pieces. When spending is high, the tone and tempo of the music rise; when spending is lower, the tone and tempo drop.

Interac looked to educate Canadians about national spending habits as well as their own, so Zulu used consumer spending data to compose unique musical pieces. When spending is high, the tone and tempo of the music rise; when spending is lower, the tone and tempo drop.

The firm’s unconventional thinking has not been lost on more conventional media, either. To launch the new 2021 Ascent – Subaru’s biggest vehicle – Zulu created a series of custom-built OOH ads that exceed the size of the media space provided. The first poster ventured beyond the frame to fill the wall. The second needed to be curved to fit into the regulation metal frame. For the last execution, concertina folds help the final poster fit behind glass.

Whether it’s playing in places where no agency has gone before, or busting paradigms in more familiar media territory, Zulu Alpha Kilo continues to raise the industry bar.

CONTACT:
Mike Sutton
President & CEO
NeedANewAgency@zulualphakilo.com

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