Category Archives: Social Media

Sport Chek Shows #WhatItTakes to Win Olympics Mindshare

Our athletes may not be the only Canadians striking gold at the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics.

Sport Chek’s path to these Games began in 2013 when parent company Canadian Tire signed a huge eight-year partnership with the COC. The strategy for Canada’s iconic sporting goods retailer was further revealed during the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi as Sport Chek launched its #WhatItTakes campaign in partnership with creative agency Sid Lee.

Let’s take a look at how Sport Chek has evolved this concept as it takes centre stage at the Rio Games.

Real-Time Relevance

From the onset, a sponsorship with the Canadian Olympic Committee is obvious as a strong brand fit for Sport Chek. But it’s par for the course for sports manufacturers & retailers to employ athletes and teams in promoting their brands.

Sport Chek took things to the next level, taking notes from the real-time marketing playbook popularized by Oreo. Drawing the attention of Adweek, Sport Chek has set up a ‘war room’ with its content team, agency partners from TBWA\Chiat\Day and an editor from CBC.

This real-time approach allows Sport Chek to incorporate recent footage of Canada’s athletes from Rio competition, serving viewers with the utility of actual highlights and news instead of generic B-roll footage.

Inspiring Message

While Canada is known as a legitimate force in the Winter Games, our country’s relationship with the Summer Olympics has been more about ups and downs. Sport Chek & TBWA embraced this insight to craft a refreshing spot that celebrates Canada’s role as an underdog nation whose setbacks only make us better.

The drama that unfolds in this manifesto undoubtedly feels inspiring for its viewers, a quality that has been shown to be especially effective for millennial males by Unruly, a digital marketing firm specializing in emotional intelligence. As explained in another Olympics article from Adweek, “inspiration is one of the top emotions. If that is present at all in an ad, they tend to experience it”.

Right Platforms

#WhatItTakes shows up in the right places to get noticed by modern viewers. As the Olympics viewing experience gets more mobile (with free streaming available on all devices), Sport Chek focused nearly 80 percent of its Rio 2016 spend on digital media, over 60 percent of which is dedicated to mobile.

Furthermore, the campaign has fully embraced social media, weaving the #WhatItTakes hashtag into its content across all Sport Chek’s social channels and posting frequent updates from the Games as it happens. Canadian Olympic athlete profiles, similar in style to Sport Chek’s previous #MyNorth campaign, incorporated the campaign’s integrated message and showed how personal challenges have made them better.

As the Rio Olympics continue, look for Sport Chek to capture Canada’s biggest moments and emerge as one of the brands that best associates itself with these 2016 Summer Games. And when it comes time for the annual marketing awards season, don’t be surprised if you see Sport Chek on the podium.

What’s the most memorable ad campaign you’ve seen in the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics? How about your all-time best Olympics spot? Share your thoughts in the comments below.


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.

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!

Content Rules Everything Around Me (C.R.E.A.M.)

With all due respect to Wu-Tang Clan (R.I.P. Ol’ Dirty), Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman make a compelling argument for the merit of strong content for effective marketing. Word is bond.

In their entry within The New Rules of Social Media book series, Content Rules: How to Create Killer Blogs, Podcasts, Videos, Ebooks, Webinars (and More) that Engage Customers and Ignite Your Business, Handley and Chapman lay the ground rules for using these aforementioned online tools to find marketing success.

Although it was admittedly required reading for my section of the Foundations of Digital Communications Strategy and Social Media course at University of Toronto, I thoroughly enjoyed the book and feel that any marketer can learn a lot from it to become a better content creator. You can check out more testimonials at, find it at your local bookstore, or wait for Amazon to send the drones if you’re really lazy.

Here are the top 5 lessons I took away from Content Rules:

1. Speak Human

Photo by jamesks / CC BY
Photo by jamesks / CC BY

The authors implore brands to develop a clear voice, as it often has more of an impact than the logos, style guides, and graphics that companies invest so much in developing. Instead of corporate “marketing speak”, content creators should write the way they talk by adopting a conversational, friendly tone that fits their brand.

Photo by PinkMoose / CCBY
Photo by PinkMoose / CC BY

2. Share or Solve, Don’t Shill

This oft-repeated mantra seems to be the cardinal rule of the Inbound Marketing philosophy, but many brands continue to overstep their boundaries and come off too “salesy”. It’s simple – create remarkable content by listening to and understanding your audience’s needs, and you’ll begin to be viewed as an expert. They might not buy from you immediately if you pitch a sale, but if you were perceived as helpful you’ll likely be sought out when they’re in a buying mindset.

3. Create Wings and Roots

Photo by minkymonkeymoo / CC BY
Photo by minkymonkeymoo / CC BY

Great content should be grounded in your brand’s voice and feel authentic, and it should also have characteristics that make it easy to spread. Ensure that your content is findable on search engines, accessible with responsive design, and shareable with social media – then it has a chance to live forever on the Internet.

Photo by Wild Guru Larry / CC BY
Photo by Wild Guru Larry / CC BY

4. Stoke the Campfire

The authors enlighten us not only how to build a real campfire (wilderness tips!) but also extend a believable metaphor on how to build and maintain a following online. Marketers should seek to add kindling (small, sharable content) along with sticks and logs (substantial pieces) – once the fire starts, the idea is that a community will gather around it.

5. Reimagine; Don’t Recycle

Photo by clurr / CC BY
Photo by clurr / CC BY

Much of the reason why marketers fear investing in content creation is because it seems like a daunting process – after all, there are a plethora of channels we seem expected to publish content on. Handley and Chapman suggest that it can be easier, as larger ideas can be broken down into smaller “chunks” of content to be shared. While I found the idea of Russell Sparkman’s “1-7-30-4-2-1” publishing schedule rather intimidating, it functions as a foolproof model to ensure regular content that essentially feeds itself.

Calling all #digitaledu folks – or other readers of Content Rules – was there anything specific that you took away from the book?

Works Cited:

Handley, Ann, and C.C. Chapman. Content Rules: How to Create Killer Blogs, Podcasts, Videos, Ebooks, Webinars (and More) that Engage Customers and Ignite Your BusinessHoboken: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2012. Print.

PodCamp Toronto: 4 Marketing Lessons

I’m coming straight outta’ PodCamp! Toronto’s pay-what-you-can “unconference” ran this past weekend, with opt-in sessions as diverse as an open data hackathon, a Singularity Q&A, and talks from the war rooms of everything from political campaigns to wearable tech launches.

Here are 4 lessons from #PCTO14 applicable to marketing:

1. Memes are an excellent way to connect with young audiences, but they need to feel real.

Rachel King (@lildarth) gave a spirited presentation about the merits (and potential virality) of a good meme. Tips included doing diligent research, staying clever & current, and being entertaining while avoiding a tone that feels too ‘corporate’. Why aren’t we seeing more memes used by brands targeting the young & hip crowd?

Most Interesting Man

2. Social contests can produce tremendous results – and more than just ego metrics.

A client + agency team presentation with Jessica Myers (@JessMyers) and Meredith Howard (@meredithhoward) showcased some of the best practices from their experiences creating major social contests for American Express Canada. Marketers should ensure contests tie strongly to their brand essence as well as their audience’s prizing preferences, and the entire team should be looped in with regular meetings to ensure deadlines are met and approvals happen quickly. Timelines of 2-4 weeks to enter a contest tend to see the highest entries before drop-off, and paid media to support contests is becoming a reality in Facebook’s new “pay to play” world.

3. The retail environment is colliding into the middle.

With companies such as Makerbot, Kickstarter, and Shipware democratizing the traditional value chain of doing business, it is becoming easier for organizations of any size to achieve vertical integration (with the help of third party services). Shopify Director of Operations Satish Kanwar (@skanwar) gave a fantastic update on the current state of retail, sharing his views that eCommerce and bricks & mortar retail are colliding to simply become “commerce”. Concepts such as pop-up shops, spaces (instead of places), and showrooming will grow increasingly prevalent, and brands should explore these as viable options to stay ahead of the curve.

4. It takes persuasion of many discrete segments to win a majority.

The digital team for Canadian Liberal leader Justin Trudeau’s latest campaign lifted the veil and shared some insightful lessons from the political trenches. Adele McAlear (@AdeleMcAlear) and Tara Hunt (@missrogue) clearly showed how Mr. Trudeau appealed to the issues that resonated with many “supernodes” of Canadians. These segments were broken out by region, cultural group, and interests. Yet another lesson to marketers that trying to appeal to the masses is folly – clearly defined segmentation strategies win battles, even in politics.

My Promise to You

It starts with you.

While I am very excited on a personal level to be launching a new blog, the central focus remains on ensuring that the content centres on YOU, the reader.

Photo Credit:
Photo Credit:

Although I plan to blog about the topics that I am most passionate about (branding & marketing), I promise…

1. To speak with you as a human: (not to you like a robot). I’ll also do my best to balance sounding smart and insightful without seeming smug or pretentious.

2. Not to hard sell: You don’t want to be hammered over the head with a sales pitch for the latest project I’m working on, so I won’t subject you to that.

3. To publish content at the right frequency: If you subscribe to my blog, I will be honoured beyond belief. My goal is to post enough to keep you in the know with the most relevant news, but not too much that it becomes overwhelming for either of us.

4. To foster engagement: Brand Puba exists to spark conversation, so I refuse to moderate the comments and promise to reply to those directed towards me. Bring on the controversy – let’s talk candidly about marketing!

5. To go beyond recycling: While I may share some really interesting articles or videos from time to time, originality is paramount and I promise to put my own twist on the news by adding personal observations and analysis.

I sincerely hope you enjoy reading Brand Puba. Please reach out to me if you have any complaints, comments, questions, or suggestions – this is YOUR blog!