This new Toronto agency wants to bring some much-needed Humanity to advertising

The head of new Toronto agency Humanity says that talking to people, not “targeting” them, will be fundamental to brands’ success in the post-COVID era, and has configured its operation around that insight.

Humanity is led by three former senior leaders from independent experiential marketing agency T1: president and chief creative officer Carolyn Shaw, vice-president, head of strategy Ryan Hughes, and VP, client relationships Lisa Rixon.

It is being described as an “offshoot” of T1, with the latter’s president and CEO Mark Harrison working with the agency in an advisory role.

The three partners (Rixon with bike, Shaw in top photo and Hughes below) had been discussing the possibility of an agency more focused on traditional advertising prior to COVID, but their conversations gathered momentum as the crisis unfolded.

“To be honest, we might have been talking in two years,” he says. “It definitely got accelerated because we had the chance to sit back, reflect and ask these questions of ourselves.”

The 20-person agency has partnered with the strategic insights organization Research Strategy Group to develop what it describes as a “behavioural and psychoanalytical approach” to communications. The goal, says Hughes, is to deliver marketing solutions that take into account people’s state-of-mind, as well as their underlying needs and motivations.

“We want what we do for a living to better society,” says Hughes. “But we’re not holier-than-thou, and we’re not going to judge people. At the end of the day, the majority of brands out there have a role in people’s lives, and as long as we help them find that role and elevate a person’s wellbeing, we’ll work with them.”

Humanity is currently working with Big Brothers/Big Sisters Canada, as well as the Canadian Physiotherapy Association and is involved in some RFPs. “There’s lots of momentum,” says Hughes. “We knew we had something good, but the amount of people reaching out to us… has been much greater than I thought it would be.”

Consumers’ expectations of brands and their role in society have changed markedly as a result of COVID and the Black Lives Matter movements, and social media and regularly updated websites like are constantly holding them accountable (or celebrating) their actions.

“What consumers are looking for now more than ever is authenticity; don’t say this is what you stand for [and] not do it,” says Hughes. “We’ve had conversations with some clients where we’ve said ‘Don’t say anything. You’re not important enough in your consumers’ life to say anything.’

“If you are going to say something, they expect you to back it up today, which is very different from when cause marketing started 20 years ago and you were able to get away with throwing pink on something and call it bettering society.”


Chris Powell