How to make business-changing creative – insights from the first Effie Effectiveness Day

What, exactly, makes an effective advertising campaign? How do you identify a brand challenge, brief the agency, apply extraordinary creative thinking and executional excellence to come up with a solution that drives real, meaningful long-term business results?

It’s a magical mix that every client and agency strives for, and what some of the best marketing minds in the country shared at the inaugural Effie Canada Effectiveness Day last week in Toronto.

The Institute of Communication Agencies brought the Effies to Canada in 2019 to help put Canadian work on an international stage, said president and CEO Scott Knox in his introductory remarks.

“It’s important for us to put the work that we do in this country on an international footing,” he said. “We wanted to make sure that all of the work being done in this country is understood to be as credible and as impactful as anything done in any other country.”

On hand last Friday were senior business leaders from the Grand Prix and three Gold winning entries. Each shared stories, insights and practical advice for how they did what they did. Aside from the case studies, the ICA presented three special awards not handed out in the gala in June: Independent Agency of the Year was given to Rethink; Agency of the Year was Ogilvy, and Brand of the Year was Sick Kids Foundation.

“We want to make sure that we understand fully—and more and more as the years grow—what it takes to drive effective marketing communications, and keep growing our ability to deliver great [work] to the marketplace,” said Knox.

So what does make an effective advertising campaign? Effectiveness stems from a commitment to long-term results over short-term gains, buy-in throughout the organization, a willingness to completely upend your advertising category, and maybe even a little good fortune. The Message provides a brief overview of each case study below.

Effie Grand Prix: Loto-Quebec and Sid Lee, “Integrated – Year 3”

The challenge: Lotto 649 was the most important brand in the Loto-Quebec portfolio, with 99% awareness, said Janie Theriault, communication marketing, web and social media director for Loto-Quebec. But by 2015, sales and market share had been decreasing for 10 straight years, with 71% of sales coming from consumers 50 and older. The new goal became connecting with millennials. “You’re going to say, “Ha, so original,’” Theriault joked with the audience. “But yes, we needed to reach out to a new crowd.”

The brief: The problem was that younger consumers didn’t believe they had a chance to win, despite being a generally positive and optimistic generation. “We needed to inspire them to feel lucky because that was the only way the lottery would be relevant to them. That was the very simple brief we gave to Sid lee.”

The solution: The idea for the campaign was inspired by the cleaning lady for Sid Lee’s executive creative director, Alex Bernier. She noticed one day that Bernier’s baby son had somehow got both legs through one leg hole of his diaper without the diaper breaking apart.

“She looked at me and said, ‘You know what, I think you should buy yourself a lottery ticket,’” said Bernier. “And she said, ‘You know when you are lucky you get yourself a lottery ticket.’ And I said, thank you.” Bernier took the idea back to the strategy team at the agency.

“They came up with the same conclusion that our everyday lives are filled with luck,” said Bernier, who then took the idea to the creatives and they loved it too. “Thousands of ideas came out in one or two weeks… we went back to Lotto Quebec and said ‘This is it.’” (Full case video below.)

“And because we are amazing clients we said, ‘Yes of course,’” said Theriault.

In truth, she said, it was scary. “It was so different from showcasing the dream of what you can do with the millions, but we needed to do something different.”

The results: “The results succeeded way beyond our expectations,” said Theriault. Not only did it stop the declining sales, but it became part of pop culture in the province. “After four years, it is still going strong, so we are very proud.”

Gold Effie: SickKids Foundation and Cossette, “VS – All in”

The challenge: Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) is world-renowned for its paediatric care, but that care was being compromised by the age of its facilities.

The hospital’s fundraising arm, SickKids Foundation, was tasked with raising $1.3 billion—the largest fundraising amount in Canadian healthcare history—to replace the hospital’s main building (which opened in 1949). “This number scared the crap out of us,” said director of integrated brand marketing, Kate Torrance.

The brief: SickKids Foundation was already raising as much as $135 million a year through traditional efforts, but reaching the $1.3 billion goal would require something bigger, said Torrance.

“We can’t go back to the same group of people and just ask them for a little bit more and hit this number,'” she said. “We needed to do something transformational in order to hit this. We needed to blow things up.”

The solution: Blowing things up required SickKids Foundation to think more like a performance brand, said Cossette’s executive creative director, Craig McIntosh. That meant doing away with traditionally “sad, and helpless and needy” cause marketing ads.

With the launch of its “VS” platform, SickKids began marketing itself like a Nike for healthcare—with anthemic TV and cinema advertising featuring take-no-prisoners patients, parents and caregivers staring down adversity and enlisting donors to join their cause. It was complemented by advertising tactics more suited to those kinds of brands, such as out-of-home takeover campaigns in Toronto’s Yonge-Dundas Square.

At the same time, SickKids began treating donors like “fans,” even creating a merchandise line that has sold more than 30,000 VS T-shirts. “We galvanized them, we created a brand that they could get behind [and] were proud of,” says Torrance.

The results: SickKids Foundation has raised $950 million of its stated $1.3 billion goal since the program’s inception, with 700,000 individuals—roughly one of every 10 people in the Greater Toronto Area—making a donation in the past four years.

Gold Effie: Kimberly-Clark Canada (Huggies) and Ogilvy, “No Baby Unhugged” 

The history: Huggies had traditionally targeted two key audiences—pre-and post-natal moms—but was failing to make inroads against its main competitor (and market leader) Pampers.

“There was no cohesiveness to, frankly, anything,” admitted Ali Ruffo, senior marketing manager at Kimberly-Clark. “We were actually going in kind of the opposite direction of our main competitor in terms of our sales and we had inconsistent share.”

The brief: So much modern marketing is focused on short-term gains, but Huggies wanted to make a longterm commitment to create an emotional attachment with consumers.

The solution: A sustained commitment to pre-natal moms built around the creative strategy of hugs. Data showed that most moms choose diaper brands when they are pregnant, and tend to stay loyal through the baby’s entire time in diapers. That meant connecting with moms early.

Clinical research, also showed that hugs can have a marked impact on newborns’ development—leading to everything from faster weight gain and shorter hospital stays to less crying and greater success with breast feeding. “What we realized was that hugs truly were loving medicine,” said Michelle Lee, Ogilvy’s head of planning. Hugging babies became the very powerful platform to connect with expectant and new mothers (see some of the creative below).  

Huggies established volunteer hugging programs in Canadian hospitals, with nurse volunteers stepping in when new moms are recovering from a difficult birth or have to provide care for other young children in the household. The program has been expanded to six healthcare facilities across the country.

The program has gone through multiple iterations since its 2015 debut, including expanding the focus to include dads, but the “hugs” strategy has been a constant throughout. “We wanted to make sure that we weren’t getting away from that an original insight, but kind of continuing to build on it,” said Ruffo.

The results: Huggies sales are up 16% since the program launch, while research suggests that new moms believe Huggies are best for newborn babies. Huggies has also expanded the program into 28 markets around the world, including the U.S.

Gold Effie: Loblaw (No Frills) and John St., “#Haulers” 

The challenge: No Frills enjoys high awareness in Canada, but there was little emotion attached to shopping there. People shopped No Frills for one reason: To save money on groceries. And they might choose another discount banner if it’s more convenient.

The brief: The goal was to give No Frills a bit more swagger, but that required buy-in from not only Loblaw’s management team, but customers, employees and franchisees. “Our marketing only works when people are fired up,” said Uwe Stueckmann, senior vice-president of marketing.

The solution: The origins for the #Haulers campaign were what John St.’s Angus Tucker described as “very uninteresting” YouTube videos, in which shoppers shared their latest “haul” from that week’s grocery shopping trip. The idea, says Tucker, was to marry those videos with “the baller lifestyle.”

That led to a souped-up 600HP roadworthy shopping cart, a stretch mini-van, and an Haulers videogame, all accompanied by a WTF commercial/music video that was decidedly unorthodox in what tends to be a staid category.

It was a creative strategy that featured no call to action, no pre-testing, no best practices, and—particularly risky in a category like discount grocery—no price points. “Ideas don’t sell themselves and we’re a big organization. For every one person that can say yes, there are 100 people that can say no,” said Stueckmann of achieving internal sell-through. “I’m fortunate enough to work for a company that is demanding great work right now… so it was a little easier. But even then there are a lot of folks in our building that have doubts and are a little afraid.”

The results: The campaign contributed to a 2% sales lift for No Frills, a major achievement in an essentially flat category that’s worth $10 billion. “We’re quite proud of the fact that we were able to move the needle in a material way and drive some incremental sales in a world that’s really tough,” said Stueckmann.

—With files from David Brown


Chris Powell