The ROM’s new work is a stark departure from typical museum marketing

The institution's campaign from BHLA positions itself around not only having all the answers.


The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) is supporting its new permanent exhibit with a campaign that’s all about asking a litany of questions.

The Willner Madge Gallery, Dawn of Life exhibit was unveiled last December and will be home to a display of specimens that explain fossil life. Lori Davison, CMO at the ROM, tells strategy that the unique exhibit warranted a unique creative approach that could be considered a departure from how typical museums and art galleries present themselves.

Institutions like the ROM usually promote themselves as having all of the answers, but the campaign, from Broken Heart Love Affair (BHLA) and OMD, instead features a boy asking himself an increasing rapid-fire succession of questions while touching a rock that’s billions of years old.

“It’s a contemporary positioning around having a dialogue,” she says, adding that exhibit both provides answers through the institution’s research and expertise, but also attempts to prompt more questions.

The museum is hoping that the exhibit featuring the oldest rock in the world – which the boy actually touches in the spot – will be a drawing card as the ROM reopens.

“It’s a pretty mind-blowing and also humbling experience to go through the gallery and think about how much of the story of time has not included humans,” Davison says. Most stories of Earth, she says, are of extinction but this ladders up to the current climate change crisis. In terms of volume of fossils, Dawn of Life is a first of its kind exhibition in North America.


The ROM, which previously used a Snapchat AR activation to promote its exhibit about whales and drive attendance following the 2021 lockdown, reopened to the public this week. The institution has an advantage, Davison says, as the size of the building and specialized air circulation for preservation allows it to handle larger crowds from a safety standpoint.

There’s an appetite for experiences, she says, with the museum hoping to fill a void as people grow weary of staring at screens and crave an enriched, real-life experience. Available tickets, she says, are moving quickly.

The campaign for Dawn of Life will come to life on social, online video, and in cinema and is “pretty lean,” Davison says, adding that the ROM has a number of exhibitions coming up, with the brand looking to convey all the new reasons to visit.

A new visual identity for the ROM is also gradually coming to life, she adds, having launched a logo that’s the shape of a perfect square in early December. That work was done by the design team at Leo Burnett. “There’s conceptual thinking behind it, and I’ll be ready to talk about that in more detail in a couple of months,” she adds.

Last year, the ROM picked BHLA as its AOR, and according to Davison, the shop’s mandate is to be its “masterbrand agency.” She adds that the ROM has been working with BHLA on a strategic level to think about how the institution shows up in the world with regards to its values. “We’ve made some interesting strides forward in terms of positioning. And the [Dawn of Life campaign] video is a great expression of that.”