Category Archives: Advertising

My Place or Yours? How Brands Hook Up with Content Creators

When Drake unveiled his photoshopped album cover for Views in late April, it was not only a brilliant viral marketing ploy to encourage fan-created parodies, it was also intended as a heartfelt tribute to the city of Toronto. But the image of the ‘6 God’ sitting atop the CN Tower is also an unquestionable nod to the subculture of “rooftopping” that has recently emerged among daring young photographers in major cities around the world.

Frank & Oak, a brand that targets young urban creatives (are we calling them “yuccies” yet?), had the ingenuity to tap into this trend for their latest campaign. To promote its new Frank & Oak SC collection of premium utility gear, the Montreal clothier teamed up with Toronto photographerJamal Burger (@jayscale) for a killer content collaboration.

The brand & content creator pairing also yielded a web takeover on the Frank & Oak site, and several posts that reached the photographer’s 176k+ Instagram followers. As told by Frank & Oak co-founder and CEO Ethan Song in an interview with Marketing, “It’s the first time we’ve gone that deep into storytelling.”


With collaborations like this, brands are able to associate themselves with influencers that already hold a strong cachet with their target audiences. They are also able to align their brand values with lifestyle attributes and ideologies on a higher level, such as Burger’s quintessential Millennial mantra of incorporating “personality into what you’re doing on a daily basis.” The cherry on top, of course, is for brand messages to benefit from extended organic reach through influencer channels.

Regardless of whether it’s paid or earned, influencer marketing continues to gain mindshare – and share of budget – with savvy brands. According to a poll by Tomoson, influencer marketing was rated as the fastest-growing online customer acquisition channel, with 59% of marketers planning to increase their influencer marketing budgets over the next year.

However, it’s definitely no slam dunk. Without the right approach, influencer campaigns can come across as contrived and can damage both the credibility of brands and the influencers that partner with them. Here are 3 key lessons to keep in mind to maximize success with influencer marketing.

1. Authentic Fit

Finding a natural fit between brand and influencer is key, otherwise followers will see right through the collaboration. It’s not in the best interest of either side for content creators to be perceived as paid shills – just like any endorsement, it should be believable that the endorsee is genuinely excited about the featured product.


Fashion & beauty Instagram star Krystin Lee was a natural fit for TRESemmé to help promote its new Beauty-Full Volume collection, teaming up with the brand for a sponsored post about haircare tips on her blog. It’s an intuitive fit, both for the beauty products category and with TRESemmé’s accessibly-premium positioning.

2. Engaging Content

Online influencers are all internet-famous for their own unique reasons, and many of them have hustled to improve and showcase their talents while building a community of engaged followers. They are able to maintain and grow their respective communities by consistently posting the types of quality content that initially drew in their core audiences.

For this reason, it’s a big mistake for a brand to come in with its chequebook expecting to control the message on an influencer’s channel with an iron fist. Branded content, while respecting the brand’s guardrails and positioning, should be respectfully developed as a collaboration and directly from the voice of the content creator.


Chicago photographer Paul Octavious was able to tie a personal story into Capital One’s #walletstories campaign concept, which itself centres on individual stories as a spin on their “What’s In Your Wallet?” slogan. It’s storytelling that fits the brand message, but it’s still a story told through the influencer’s eyes and in his words.

3. Channel Relevance

Finding an authentic fit and the right concept for some engaging content is a great start, but the practice of actually hooking up with influencers can be a complicated challenge – especially if it’s a brand’s first time. Yikes!

Thankfully, the folks at Kissmetrics put together The Definitive Guide to Influencer Targeting, which is a helpful resource to start with. It defines the right influencers as having context, reach, and actionability to help drive a brand’s objectives. The guide also recommends giving the influencer an image before reaching out, as a specific genre or personality may work best for a specific brand.

It’s also important for marketers to choose a social media channel that aligns with their brand objectives. While Instagram might work best for some premium brands, perhaps a channel like Snapchat might be more effective for brands going for a fun, youthful approach.

That’s exactly how the Paramount Pictures approached their famous teaser stunt for “Zoolander 2”. Vine’s biggest star, Jerome Jarre, was conveniently on hand at Paris Fashion Week in 2015 for Ben Stiller (as Derek Zoolander) to “steal” his phone for a Blue Steel selfie.

Also worth noting is that some advertiser categories have proven to be more successful than others with influencer campaigns. A 2015 study from RhythmOne indicates that Alcoholic Beverages, Travel & Tourism, and CPG Food outperform the $11.20 in earned media value (from $1.00 invested) averaged across all industries.

Not that it can’t be done with some creativity, but influencer campaigns in Electronics, Telecommunications, and Baby Care don’t have a strong track record. It’s not surprising – just try to think about an influencer campaign for wireless plans without cringing.

If there’s one thing we can be sure of, it’s that influencer campaigns will continue to gain prominence within the marketing mix. So whether it’s on YouTube or Snapchat and whether it’s being posted by brands or content creators (or both!), the love affair is growing stronger and stronger every day. Don’t you get that feeling?

What’s the best influencer campaign that comes to mind for you? Or, even better, what’s the worst brand + influencer hookup you’ve seen?


The Top 5 Christmas Ads of 2015 (So Far)

Boy, that escalated quickly! Here we are, barely over a month away from Christmas, and many brands have (naturally) been making their cases for our holiday dollars for the better part of November.

While we haven’t seen anything yet from perennial holiday advertisers such as Apple and WestJet, some fantastic campaigns have already emerged. Here are my five top picks from what we’ve seen from the holiday season so far.

#5: Toys R Us – “Like Father, Like Daughter”


One of the main reasons Star Wars is so transcendent is its appeal across generations; with films now spanning across 5 decades. From the original trilogy and onwards, the movies are not only family-friendly but they have included family as a dominant theme. And based on the teasers for Episode VII, it’s evident that family connections will remain prominent in the next three films.

Toys R Us is understandably (and smartly) betting big on “The Force Awakens” to be a massive force to drive toy sales this Christmas season. By appealing to Gen-Xers’ profound affinity for Star Wars and their desire to share that love with the next generation of children, Toys R Us positions itself as the definitive Star Wars retail destination.

For a 60-second spot, the adorable scenes with great interplay between the actors combine for some strong emotional resonance. While the final setting in the toy aisles somewhat detracts from the raw storytelling, it effectively shows the priority that Toys R Us has dedicated to the Star Wars franchise for Christmas 2015.

#4: Interac – “Toy Store”


In advertising, the months of November and December function primarily for marketers to convince holiday shoppers to loosen their purse strings and spend joyfully with their credit cards. Interac faces an uphill, unsexy battle to persuade Canadians to think about the financial consequences and consider paying with debit.

“Toy Store” by Zulu Alpha Kilo imagines a holiday reality where product costs are more overtly stated than price tags could ever afford. Classic (unbranded) Christmas toys like nutcrackers, stuffed bears, dolls, and 1980s robots break into a chorus of ‘Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy’ with the warning of impending debt.

The message “Have a Merry January” frames the message in a positive way in Interac’s continuation of the successful “Be in the Black” campaign. A prominent outdoor campaign with some cheeky copy (ex: “Debt is a real nutcracker”) neatly puts a bow on the integrated campaign, although the online-only spots don’t quite strike the same chord.

Interac's OOH media features wittily knit copy.
Interac’s OOH media features wittily knit copy.

As stated by Rob Feightner, Zulu Alpha Kilo’s client services director, “Canadians are being influenced and pressured to spend more and to spend sooner”. This campaign might just play a part in bucking the trend.

#3: Target – “The Holiday Odyssey”


We’ve all seen commercials where brands reimagine “The Night Before Christmas” where the product is, in one way or another, the hero. But few of them genuinely embrace the spirit of storytelling in a way that actually entertains.

Target (U.S., obviously) is hoping to bring the magic of animated storybooks to entertain and woo its guests with another major adventure in branded content. Centred on a digital storybook narrated by Neil Patrick Harris, Target and agency 72andSunny have created an immersive “Holiday Odyssey” including five holiday spots.

With Toys R Us already owning “Star Wars destination” status, Target managed to get brands like Minions, Barbie, Ninja Turtles, Lego, My Little Pony and Sesame Street to play in the same toy box and appear in the animations. To say this spot must have gone through many approvals would be a massive understatement, which makes its effectiveness even more impressive.

A great article from Adweek details the full scope of this campaign, which includes a kid-friendly wish list app and a tentpole event with Disney to air “Mary Poppins” on network TV for the first time in over a decade. We’ll have to wait and see if this trove of branded content is the ‘Spoonful of Sugar’ that will make it easy for Target’s guests to swallow the bitter pill of their holiday shopping bills.

#2: Duracell – “Battle for Christmas Morning”


The folks at Duracell have smartly featured toys in their holiday ads for many years now, working directly with strategic partner Hasbro since 2012 to show various toys coming alive through the power of their batteries.

With “Battle for Christmas Morning”, Duracell amps it up to a whole new level by bringing the excitement of the Star Wars universe into their commercial through an extended partnership with Disney/Lucasfilm. The production quality delivers in an impressive way that only the direct partnership with Lucas could have yielded.

The casting for the child actors is strong, especially the decision to write a young female Jedi into the script given the lead role Daisy Ridley will play as Rey in the upcoming film.

According to the press release, Duracell is one of the lucky seven global brands selected to participate in the “expansive, historical promotional campaign” to support the December 18th release of “The Force Awakens”. It’s a great alignment for both Duracell and Hasbro, as Star Wars toy sales are expected to bring in close of $2 billion over the last four months of 2015.

If this spot (nearing 9 million YouTube views) can help Duracell become the battery of choice for just a fraction of the electronic Star Wars toys gifted this Christmas, it could mean sales of galactic proportions for the batteries trusted everywhere.

#1: John Lewis – “#ManOnTheMoon”


This UK-based department store is well known (and well loved) for their Christmas ads adverts, and they managed to top most expectations this year with their 2015 spot by adam&eveDDB.

“#ManOnTheMoon” captures some of the best qualities associated with the season: the joy of giving, being kind to our neighbours, and the connections made between generations. In what promises to be a continuing trend in advertising, a young girl was written as the ambitious, resourceful protagonist; discovering a literal man on the moon and earnestly searching for a way to connect with him.

The choice of a cover from the Oasis classic ‘Half the World Away’ fits the story’s plot and emotional tone perfectly, with fantastic acting and art direction ensuring the production is truly cinematic. In a year where “The Martian” became a top box office draw, the concept is perfectly timed to make us sympathize with the lonely old man on the moon.

Of course, this is no small production, costing a full £1 million according to The Telegram. But with 15 million YouTube views and counting, John Lewis hardly needed to spend a fortune in paid media to make the investment worthwhile. And while the spot doesn’t prominently feature many brands – or even the retailer itself – the brand clearly has been getting mentioned as this spot propelled the brand to trend on social, not to mention word of mouth.

John Lewis took the concept a small step giant leap further by launching various initiatives related to the ad, all detailed on one impressive #ManOnTheMoon microsite. An app was created to bring a downloadable poster to life. John Lewis is supporting old people and giving guests a number of ways to view and learn more about the moon, including educational resources for children. Visitors can even shop for Man on the Moon products, including those shown in the ad.

Overall, this is a holiday ad to aspire towards and will be hard to dethrone as the best of 2015. After all, Christmas is a time for believing – and this campaign is enough to make anyone a believer; marketers and consumers alike.

HBC Tells Canadian Stories Through Inspired Marketing

When Canadians think of 60-second heritage videos about our past, the typical reaction is to either shudder with repulsion or yawn with boredom. It’s not our fault. It’s this very (dark) Canadian history in film that we have painfully engrained in our consciousness.

Unlike our star-spangled friends south of the border, we Canucks never had a “Saving Private Ryan”, “Forrest Gump” or even an “Independance Day” to capture our imaginations and inspire patriotism. We too have a rich history, but Hollywood just doesn’t make films about Frederick Banting and Tommy Douglas. Almost all of our iconic films are comedies, and our commercials often follow suit.

Thankfully, The HBC History Foundation has launched a new series to tell some of Canada’s most adventurous stories.

Feeling less like “Heritage Moments” and more “We The North”, the first spot by Toronto agency Red Urban vividly re-creates Canadian heritage in a way that can resonate with even the most modern, cynical viewers.

Many Canadians likely had no idea who John Rae was, but this 19th century badass has a story that clearly deserves to be told. An interactive history journey has also been created for the “Country of Adventurers” campaign website.

Hudson’s Bay Company may now be owned by American private equity firm NRDC, but its history is unquestionably Canadian. The brand’s roots go back as far back as 1670, including a remarkable claim as the onetime largest landowner in the world.

While its brand image today is in fantastic shape, HBC is more closely associated with the domestic bliss of #stripespotting than its history as North America’s oldest company. This campaign, with national television buys including programs such as the Emmy Awards and MLB Postseason, appeals to viewers’ adventure-seeking attitudes.

Outdoorsman Les Stroud, host of Survivorman, was enlisted because “the best people to tell Canadians about our past adventurers are modern adventurers,” according to Red Urban Creative Director Christina Yu.

Modern-day adventurer Les Stroud tell the story of arctic explorer Dr. John Rae in the first installment of a new campaign for the HBC History Foundation (CNW Group/Hudson's Bay)
Modern-day adventurer Les Stroud tell the story of arctic explorer Dr. John Rae in the first installment of a new campaign for the HBC History Foundation (CNW Group/Hudson’s Bay)

While Hollywood increasingly relies on biopics and adaptations to entertain us, brands should take a page from this book and tell their own stories. The mythology is all there – and often communicated impeccably well to employees – but it’s rare to see the same effort employed in consumer-facing brand campaigns.

As posed by Adam Toren of Entrepreneur, “Stories are what people remember. Even when they forget names and faces, they rarely forget the story and how it made them feel.” We look forward to seeing HBC tell more stories about men (and thankfully, women!) such as David Thompson and Maud Watt as “Country of Adventurers” continues.

Let’s look for more Canadian brands to entertain and endear us with authentic, relevant stories like this. After all, we’ve got plenty to tell – Jose Bautista’s bat flip  has already been immortalized by the CBC in a “Heritage Minute” of its own.

Ad Spotlight – Facebook Gets Friendly

Impersonal. Cold. Uncaring. Creepy.

These negative connotations of Facebook are quickly forgotten with one viewing of The Social Network‘s new brand anthem.

In concert with their in-house agency, The Factory, Facebook has rolled out their first wide-scale brand campaign since their widely-mocked (and highly pretentious) “Chairs” spot by “Birdman” director Alejandro Iñárritu and Wieden + Kennedy. With an improved approach, it appears that Facebook is learning from not only its plethora of consumer data, but from past missteps in advertising.

Three separate 60-second ads were produced, each weaving together a story with the common theme of friendship at the heart of it. As written by Tim Nudd of Adweek, “the writing is poetic and – maybe most critically – humble”. The characters appear authentic, with an air of hip quirkiness and diversity rarely seen from such a mainstream brand. The soft piano renditions of pop songs inspire nostalgia while complementing the optimistic, thankful tone of the visuals and script.

The executions for all three spots are stellar, so make sure to check out “Girl Friends” and “Friend Request” if you “liked” the video above. Of course, a common theme woven throughout the scripts is the Facebook-coined lexicon of “friend”, “likes”, and “shared”. The tone is so well finessed that this adds a deeper real-life meaning to the terms, rather than coming across as forced.

Which one of these brands do you want to be friends with? (hint - Justin Bieber isn't endorsing it).
Which one of these brands do you want to be friends with? (Hint – Justin Bieber isn’t endorsing it).


The campaign is tied together with this integrated message being communicated in a simple, approachable way with out-of-home advertising featuring realistic friends. While these don’t seem like much when removed of context, they support the overall campaign with scale to reach Facebook’s broad audience. These billboards and posters aren’t limited to just the “Friends” messaging though – Facebook’s initiative also enjoys the spotlight.

Transit poster for

While the message is somewhat different for the layer of this campaign, it combines with the other efforts to make Facebook seem like a genuine, human organization. Look no further than the individual stories Mr. Zuckerberg’s company is highlighting, like Lian and his record store in Jakarta. Lian’s story (among others) make a strong point that a more accessible Internet for all makes for a better world, and the microsite flows seamlessly (no matter what device it is viewed on).

Of course, Facebook benefits quite selfishly from a larger base of worldwide internet users as it expands their potential consumer market. And yes, those “friends” in their advertising are almost certainly paid actors and models. But in a competitive tech world, this campaign helps Facebook stay as a brand that people will gladly interact with.

Does Facebook’s new campaign get the “thumbs up”, or are you searching for a “dislike” button?  Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Top 10 Ads of Super Bowl 2015

Super Bowl XLIX was a night of back-and-forth football action, climaxing with an all-time great catch and an atrocious play call by the Seattle Seahawks. Katy Perry’s halftime show featuring beach balls and dancing sharks had the internet buzzing, and Kanye still managed to look unhappy the entire time.

But of course, all of this is pales in significance compared to the truly important part of the night – Super Bowl advertising!

Always – “#LikeaGirl”

The best of the night by almost any measure. A stirring commentary on the socialization of negative stereotypes of girls.

Clash of Clans – “Revenge”

A hilariously intense monologue by Liam Neeson makes this one of the most memorable ads. Far better casting and execution than the World of Warcraft spots with William Shatner and Mr. T.

Snickers – “The Brady Bunch”

With all due respect to Clash of Clans, Snickers wins the “Best Celebrity Casting” award with Danny Trejo and Steve Buscemi crashing an episode of the classic TV show. Check out the ‘making of’ video to truly appreciate the technical mastery involved in pulling this off.

BMW – “Newfangled Idea”

Katie Couric and Bryant Gumbel (like many of us) had no idea what to make of The Internet in 1994. They also had the humility to play caricatures of themselves in this ad for BMW, featuring the gorgeous new I3 hybrid.

Budweiser – “Lost Dog”

Clydesdales, rural America, a good-looking farmer, and an adorable labrador puppy – it’s certainly not original, but its effective. Adding a soulful rendition of “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” makes this even more of a tear-jerker.

Note: Budweiser also released the polarizing “Brewed The Hard Way” Super Bowl commercial, which touts Bud as a “macro beer” and openly mocks craft breweries. Microbrewery they are not, but this clearly alienated many, with over 6,000 dislikes on YouTube.

Weight Watchers – “All You Can Eat”

An extended metaphor of unhealthy eating as drug use. A witty, snappy script. Evocative, cinematic visuals. A frenetic, recognizable score that perfectly sets the pace. And a bold choice to advertise a weight loss program during a TV event aggressively associated with binge eating of junk food.

Toyota – “My Bold Dad”

A common theme with this year’s big game ads was the celebration of fatherhood. This one uses incredible storytelling, a more progressive role of femininity, and a pro-military ending – if the father/daughter story doesn’t get you, the Team America patriotism will! Audiences will remember this ad, but will they recall the brand?

Kia – “The Perfect Getaway”

Pierce Brosnan’s days as 007 are well behind him, but he’s still highly identifiable as the spy action hero. Kia “brings a little dose of reality” according to a review by Ken Wheaton of Ad Age. Brosnan’s fantasy scenes about adversaries and explosions add the grandiose escapism we love about Super Bowl advertising.

Esurance – “Say My Name”

Walter White is “sorta” a pharmacist in this humorous spot with pop culture appeal. The gag clearly illustrates why consumers should be treated as individuals (not demographics) by their insurance providers.

Squarespace – “Om”

This one makes the cut just because of its creativity as an integrated campaign. Jeff Bridges not only stars in a disturbing ad, but actually partnered with Squarespace to make a “Sleeping Tape” that people can actually purchase online. It’s worth a look at just to see the insanely great madness that proves almost anything can come to life with a beautiful website.


Did you see something else worthy of recognition during the Super Bowl? A favourite social media activation? Pass it along into the comments below – no interceptions, I promise!

Marketing Players of the Week – “Together” Edition

Whether or not you view advertising as art, it’s impossible to deny that it imitates life. Between global acts of solidarity such as “We Are Ferguson” and “Je Suis Charlie”, socially-conscious individuals have boldly come together amidst acts of racism and terrorism.

Fittingly, the most effective ads of January 2015 have embraced this concept of togetherness.


Arguably the most global-minded and progressive of North America’s Big 4 sports leagues, the NBA recently hired Translation as its advertising agency after a creative review. The new partner came through impressively for the league’s Martin Luther King Day tribute spot, helping the NBA become only the third entity to gain authorization to use King’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech.

Featuring black-and-white footage of monumental events of NBA history layered with audio from MLK’s powerful speech, the 60 second commercial shows how basketball brings people together. Images of Red Auerbach with Bill Russell and Phil Jackson with Michael Jordan celebrate not only teamwork (and winning) but the unity between races that King dreamed of.

Transcending race, the video goes on to include the NBA’s first female ref (Violet Palmer) its first openly gay player (Jason Collins).

Recent controversies such as Donald Sterling’s blatant racism prove that the league (and America) have a long road ahead of them to improve race relations. However, from protests about Sterling to players wearing “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirts during warmups, it’s been encouraging to see players come together to more actively join social movements. Thankfully, the league is supporting these causes and even bringing them forward with its marketing messages.

Newcastle Brown Ale and Brands of America

Also in the world of sports, we are only a few weeks away from The Big Game. It’s also Oscar Season, and former Newcastle endorsee Anna Kendrick was busy as a quirky Cinderella in December’s “Into the Woods”. With Newcastle Brown Ale striving to maintain its indie brand image, the beer manufacturer needed to find a slightly less mainstream spokesperson.

Enter deadpan specialist Aubrey Plaza of Parks and Recreation fame. In a call to arms for brands across America, she expertly lambasts the cliches of big budget Super Bowl advertising while asking small brands to join the first ever crowdsourced Super Bowl ad.

The #BandofBrands campaign extends to social media, as independent brands such as Armstrong, Beanitos, McClure’s Pickles, and Sharper Image have joined the collective. Only time will tell how many others will sign up, but the email application process on their website will undoubtedly find many interested parties.


According to many, their “Signs” ad during the Golden Globes received a negative response for using events like 9/11 in an attempt to grab at consumers’ heartstrings. But McDonald’s elicited a much greater reaction when the brand released “Archenemies” earlier this month.

The animated 60-second spot imagines lifetime rivals making amends and coming together by sharing various McDonald’s products, all to the cheerful tune of “Love Is Endless” by Mozella. According to an article by Maureen Morrison of Ad Age, the company with the Golden Arches is “reigniting” its commitment to the “I’m Lovin’ It” tagline which launched back in 2003.

It’s a bright, happy, and moderately funny approach for a fast food brand that aims to appeal to the masses. We can expect to see more of this from the burger giant, although it’s hard to imagine anything embodying the concept of ‘together’ better than Wile E. Coyote making nice with The Road Runner.

Are you lovin’ it again, or not so much? Share your thoughts on these ads of togetherness in the comments below.

5 Marketing Trends to Watch in 2015

It’s a wild, weird world we live in these days.

The year 2014 saw Facebook pay $2 billion for a virtual reality startup, a game company sell 30,000 boxes of bullshit for $6 each, and an internet celebrity cat earn (several) million dollars in endorsements. And these were all brilliant examples of brands taking advantageous positions in the strange circumstances of our zeitgeist.

2015 will see many of this decade’s (the tens?) growing trends continue to gain prominence, as we grow closer to realizing the dystopian future depicted in “Her”. Singularity and all.

While I continue waiting for my crystal ball to be delivered by the drones at Amazon, these predictions are based on my own personal observations of marketing trends. Recognition is also due to thought leaders and writers all over the Internets (linked where relevant).

1. Dominance of Mobile

At this point, most companies have (thankfully) made the investment in responsively-designed websites and/or user-friendly mobile apps. And sure, the small screen is being considered more seriously in media planning as mobile continues growing faster than any other format. But many of us have yet to take the “mobile first” mantra to heart.

Photo by Peter
Consumers gravitate to mobile technology more every year – marketers would be wise to focus on mobile more than ever. Photo by Peter.

This year will see more marketers follow the bold examples set by brands that led their industries with mobile. As the vast majority of the population increasingly spends their time glued to smartphones, tablets, and now wearable technology, brands will need to find innovative ways to engage them through their devices.

2. Convergence of Commerce

There’s a reason that Satish Kanwar, Director of Product at Shopify, doesn’t like to use the term “e-commerce” when he speaks about shopping online. That’s because no matter where the purchase takes place, it’s all just commerce – and the lines are rapidly blurring between shopping in-store and online.

Technology such as beacons can help bridge the gap between bricks & mortar and mobile technology. Photo by Jonathan Nalder.
Technology such as beacons can help bridge the gap between bricks & mortar and mobile technology. Photo by Jonathan Nalder.

Traditional bricks & mortar retailers are introducing strategies that make life easier for shoppers, including Walmart leaving heavily into ship-to-store and Grab&Go lockers at the front of their locations. Conversely, online menswear startup Frank & Oak has acknowledged the merits of having a tactile connection with consumers, as they opened a physical store in Toronto complete with a product boutique, barbershop, and café. Beacon technology and geo-fencing are further blurring lines by adding a layer of interaction between retail stores and their guests via Bluetooth.

Savvy marketing strategists will be mindful of connecting with consumers in person and online, and giving them the option to make purchases at their convenience – whether it’s at a storefront location or with the touch of a screen.

 3. Rise of Programmatic

It seems like just yesterday that marketing departments were still learning about what exactly real-time bidding (RTB) was all about. Now, programmatic buying appears inevitable to become the preferred method of media buying digital ad space.

All it takes is 200ms for real-time bidding to place an ad impression. Photo by BurnAway.
All it takes is 200ms for the real-time bidding process to place an ad impression. Photo by BurnAway.

Marketers and agencies will need to cooperate to improve the quality of impressions as fraud continues to be the main concern. However, ad exchanges and digital agencies have a vested interest in regaining the trust of marketers by avoiding placements on ghost sites, which can artificially inflate both impressions and click-thru rates. Brands are (rightfully) seeking peace of mind that their ads are displayed in appropriate context and that their money is going towards ad units on legitimate websites.

Still, the sophisticated targeting ability and efficient reach afforded to marketers by the programmatic model makes RTB an easy sell in 2015. Presumably, budgets will continue to shift in this direction.

An interesting trend to watch will be the consumer response to advertisers’ increasingly “creepy” uses of intimate personal data. With the heart-rate sensors included in wearables such as the Apple Watch, emotion-detecting advertising threatens to exploit and alienate consumers unless brands are extremely sensitive.

4. Social Selling

Social media has long been a major influencing factor in the buying habits of consumers, who clearly value the benefits of referral from friends and the dialogue with brands on social. Entering 2015, social media is now poised to dominate the path to purchase.

Amazon has been one of the leaders in driving sales directly from social. Photo by Chris Messina.
Amazon has been one of the leaders in driving sales directly from social media. Photo by Chris Messina.

Twitter made waves by introducing a “Buy” button, making it much easier for brands to convert consumer interest into a purchase without leaving the application. This complements savvy initiatives already being used in the Twittersphere, like Amazon’s #AmazonCart shortcut and the Tweet-a-coffee function introduced by Starbucks (full disclosure: I am a proud Starbucks partner).

Facebook, not to be outdone, introduced their own “Buy” button to improve conversion for advertisers on the channel. Big brands like Target have also been discovering the power of Curalate’s Like2Buy software, which integrates seamlessly with Instagram. This will continue to grow in value as marketers test out sponsored posts and work more closely with style influencers on Instagram.

Brands also have the opportunity to incorporate social media at retail, à la efforts by Nordstrom and others. By integrating social proof in offline sales moments, savvy brands can close the loop while bringing social media to the forefront of their cross-channel efforts.

5. Marketing as Utility

Consumers today (especially Millennials and Gen Z) expect more from the brands they support. This reality has led many companies to lean heavily into CSR initiatives in an attempt to prove that they care about the environment, poverty, education, health, and a plethora of other causes.

Brands can create connections by providing utility to consumers - like open source 3D-printable designs, for example. Photo by Creative Tools.
Brands can create connections by providing utility to consumers – like open source 3D-printable designs, for example. Photo by Creative Tools.

Taking it a step further is the concept of utility marketing. By allocating its would-be advertising budget towards something that provides utility to its target market, a brand can establish a much more meaningful connection with its end user. Over the past couple years, this has most frequently taken the form of sponsorships or native advertising.

Looking to the future, we can expect more companies to make bigger, bolder investments into this concept. Brands should look to provide value to their consumers’ lives in ways that align closely with their core values, product offering, and positioning. The more long-term and utilitarian it gets (think a free service or app), the more likely it is that consumers will seek them out for repeat business.

Join me in sharing your own bold predictions for marketing trends of 2015. If you think I’ve missed anything, please add it in the comments!

Making Spirits Bright – 5 Best Christmas Ads of 2014

The holiday season brings people together and it’s hard to deny that most of us get a little more sentimental during this time of year, no matter what our family traditions may be.

Advertisers are overwhelmingly aware of this phenomenon, while the Christmas season also happens to represent the most lucrative season for retailers and manufacturers due to gift giving. If a Christmas ad can tug at our vulnerable heartstrings the right way, the prevailing logic is that consumers will loosen their purse strings.

Strangely though, many of the world’s biggest marketers save their blockbuster production budgets for advertising during other pop culture events, such as the Super Bowl or the World Cup.

Christmas has long reigned supreme in the UK, and it seems like the rest of the world is starting to catch up. Last year it was Apple and WestJet making our hearts melt and our eyes water, and it seems like there are even more contenders joining the fray in 2014.


If you’re a Canadian or a regular reader of Brand Puba, you’ve already seen how WestJet captured the magic of Christmas for the second straight year in their “real time giving” stunt. Here’s the video below for your viewing pleasure.

Note: copycat ads have emerged from Expedia, Virgin Airlines, and domestic rival Air Canada.


Last year’s “Misunderstood” was probably the holiday ad of the year, and Apple enlisted TBWA\Media Arts Lab to bring it home again for their Macbook Air and iPad mini 3. Evidently, they didn’t need to advertise the new iPhone 6.

“The Song” sees a teenage girl discovering a vintage jazz recording from her grandmother and re-recording it as a duet (with the assistance of modern technology). It’s emotionally resonant, but unfortunately not to the same degree of last year’s spot.


In the most controversial ad of this year’s list, British grocer Sainsbury’s partnered with the Royal British Legion to create a tribute to the Christmas Truce of World War I in 1914.

The cinematography and evocative music help make this the pinnacle of sadvertising and (in my humble opinion) this spot is a classy way for the brand to give a heartfelt homage to the event 100 years ago.

John Lewis

Another UK retailer already known for epic Christmas ads, John Lewis joined forces with adam&eveDDB to create a charming story of a boy and his imaginary penguin.

The holiday spot is whimsical and effectively employs humour, and bonus points go to the brand for making the campaign integrated with a Twitter account for Monty The Penguin.


Heading further east, Japanese telecommunications provider KDDI may have pulled off the most brilliant Christmas ad of 2014. True to its essence as a purveyor of technology, the brand used high-tech equipment to create the experience of an intimate date for two people separated by thousands of miles.

Agency partner Hakuhodo made the restaurant experience look seamless by using massive screen displays and motion sensors. A contest website was created where users could enter to win the Sync Dinner from Tokyo to Osaka.


Add your favourite holiday ads from 2014 in the comments below, and I hope you have a very happy holiday season!

WestJet Takes Flight Before Christmas

After last year’s masterpiece of viral content marketing for the Christmas holidays, the question on everyone’s mind was “how can WestJet top themselves for 2014″? The wait is now over.

WestJet, with agency partners Studio M, managed to pull off a miracle (in advertising standards) by repeating the theme from last year while adding a new twist to keep it original. The tactic? A departure from Canada and some generosity to a third world community in need.

Employees (“WestJetters”) jet-set off to Nuevo Renacer, Dominican Republic with charitable attitudes and what appears to be a lot of energy for doing good. Re-creating the magic from Christmas Miracle 2013 with a videoconferencing call from Santa, many of the community members share their wishes – only this time, the requests are much less materialistic. Kids ask for skateboards and dolls, while adults wish for utilitarian gifts like a washing machine and a new horse.

Watch the video below and see the rest for yourself:

The short film is true to the brand essence as an unpretentious airline that cares, and their “Why We Did It” video reveals that their employees had been volunteering to help the community since 2012. There is no coupon or mention of a seat sale at the end, as this execution feels genuine throughout its five minute duration. However, the pivotal roles of the jet, branded sleigh, employees, and blue-suited Santa Claus give this an undisputedly WestJet feel.

A spectacular display of marketing coming together with CSR, this year’s WestJet Christmas Miracle is a lesson to other brands that ’tis better to give than to receive. Create compelling content that people will love, and the resulting goodwill is far greater than any short term sales success.

Marketing Players of the Week – NBA Tip-Off Edition

Tipping off this past Tuesday, the 2014-15 NBA season represents a year of many compelling storylines. Rookie phenoms Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker kick off their pro careers amidst massive expectations. Anthony Davis (and his trademark unibrow) looks to break out and become a household name, while Derrick Rose returns from injury to bring the Bulls back to title contention. And a player by the name of LeBron James returns to his quiet home of Cleveland, Ohio.


Since day one when he signed an endorsement deal with Nike for $90 million while still in high school, LeBron James has been a perfect fit for the Beaverton-based sportswear giant. According to Forbes, LeBron’s brand is worth $10 million more than last year and he has replaced Tiger Woods as the most valuable sports brand in the world.

Brand partners including Sprite, Beats by Dre, and McDonald’s have already celebrated his return to Cleveland, but it’s Nike that most effectively brings this to life in their advertising.

In a masterful short film by Nike’s longtime agency Wieden+Kennedy, LeBron gives a goosebump-inducing speech in the pregrame huddle, joined by not only the Cavaliers players and staff but what seems like the entire city of Cleveland.

His words are expertly crafted in the fashion of classic locker room speeches by sports leaders. The black and white effect paired with the ominous score contribute to the drama. Hoards of Cleveland faithful bow their heads in reverence, almost religiously. It’s perfect.

Accompanying this spot was a gameday launch of his LeBron 12 signature shoe, and the installation of a 10-story banner, with “Cleveland” replacing his name on the jersey to symbolize James putting the city on his back.

Remember the aftermath of The Decision in 2010 when fans burned his jersey and parodied his Nike ad? It seems like a distant memory now, as scars have healed over time while LeBron (and his PR team) have made all the right moves in process of his return to Cleveland.

Yes, ‘LeBrand’ is alive and stronger than ever in 2014. And his corporate partners – Nike especially – will gladly benefit from their associations with King James.

Los Angeles Clippers

New management, new era. The upstart LA Clippers, longtime basement-dwellers of the NBA, were finally able to split ties with disgraced former owner Donald Sterling when Microsoft billionaire Steve Ballmer took over the team for a record $2 billion.

As any brand would be wise to do, the Clippers have made moves to distance themselves from any associations with their past owner’s baggage (Lululemon, take note). Ballmer attending a Dodgers game with Clippers coach Doc Rivers and Magic Johnson (who was disparaged by Sterling) was a fantastic way to extend the olive branch and signify a new beginning. Now, the NBA club seeks to reinforce to fans that the Clippers are entering a more positive era.

The ‘Be Relentless’ spot by RPA avoids any mention of the controversy or ownership change, but hints at the changes with overt imagery of Ballmer and references to a “beginning” in the script. Most of all, it is successful because it focuses on the basketball court, which is all that Clippers fans will care about assuming the team continues to emerge as a leader in the NBA’s Western Conference.

Sport Chek

Embracing the Toronto Raptors’ successful ‘We The North’ campaign, Sport Chek looks to make itself the retail destination for basketball fans across Canada.

Canadian Tire Corporation has made a big bet on Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment brands with a recent sponsorship deal, and Sport Chek is even selling an exclusive Raptors clothing collection by Adidas this year. Tapping Sid Lee to re-create the magic of ‘We The North’, Sport Chek is releasing several videos for a #MyNorth series.

Starting with a heartfelt tribute to Toronto basketball legend Phil Dixon, the videos take on a grassroots approach and will feature amateur ballers from nine communities in the GTA, according to Russ Martin at Marketing Mag. It’s a strong content play, and complements the Raptors’ own 2014-15 campaign quite well.

Sport Chek took it a step further by involving Raptors forward Patrick Patterson as an ‘Undercover Pro’ working at a Sport Chek store. It’s a cute stunt, but lacks the polish and emotional resonance of the Sid Lee videos.

While it’s important to draw a connection to the stores, this video does little to sell fans on the merits of their basketball section, nor does it take advantage of their impressive in-store digital technology.

In fact, the ‘Undercover Pro’ concept itself is derivative of a much funnier video that involved Landry Fields as “employee of the month” at Modell’s. Given that Fields now plays for the Raptors it seems baffling that Sport Chek would recycle this concept with another Raptors bench player. Thankfully, this stunt is just a backup to the much larger role played by the ‘#MyNorth’ videos, which should suffice just fine in their starting role for Sport Chek.


What’s your opinion on LeBron James since his return to Cleveland? Do you have a favourite NBA tip-off campaign that deserves mention? Share your thoughts in the comments!