Don’t hibernate, ‘hibermake,’ says Lee Valley

Who: Lee Valley, with Christina Yu as creative director, Scouts Honour for production, Saints for editing, The Vanity for SFX and Vapor RMW for sound/music. Media by Ayima.

What: “Time to Hibermake,” a new inspirational video ad targeting woodworking enthusiasts (from experts to new hobbyists) that is part of the larger “Let’s do something” marketing platform launched last summer.

When & Where: The new ad went live this week, and is being pushed out through a targeted online and social buy.

Why I (the history): The 43-year old Lee Valley brand is well-established among a niche market of craftspeople, experts and professionals. It has traditionally relied on catalogue marketing, but as it tries to expand to younger demos and become more accessible, there is a new focus on digital, storytelling and emotionally connective work.

Why II (the pandemic): The Lee Valley specialty of hobbies and projects for the home suddenly had a much bigger market when the pandemic hit and more people found themselves staying home and looking for new activities to keep themselves busy.

It was soon after the pandemic took hold that vice-president of marketing Geri McCuish reached out to Christina Yu (the pair had worked together when McCuish was at The Bay and Yu at Red Urban). By summer they had the new “Let’s do something” platform, which launched with an appropriately DIY ad (more below).

How: Lee Valley’s focus isn’t just on selling tools for a project or starting a new hobby, but helping customers feel good about learning something new and celebrating the feeling of accomplishment that comes from dedication to the craft, said McCuish. “Our goal is to help people get started in a craft, as well as have that ‘Look what I made’ or ‘Look what I fixed’ moment.”

The new ad focuses specifically on woodworkers at a time of year when people can stay inside and focus on their crafts and hobbies. That behaviour was the inspiration for the portmanteau “hibermake.” In this case, it’s about woodworkers, but they plan to use it for other creative targeting those who are staying home and working on other projects.

Visually, the ad shows how a block of wood is more than just a block of wood. With passion and imagination, time, and dedication to craft, it can become something beautiful. It was created around some existing footage Yu came across from animator/film-maker Brett Foxwell. The video takes the viewer inside pieces of wood which seemingly comes alive.

“I thought this is amazing,” she said. “Imagine if I pieced together a block of wood and we were able to go into it… It’s slow moving, and going in and feeling like there is this world of possibility. We wanted it to feel mesmerizing and beautiful, looking at the grain of the wood and everything you can do—letting the wood inspire you.”

Yu’s directorial debut: These ads see Yu—long recognized as one of Canada’s top creative directors, and who has been freelancing since last spring—stretching her wings as a filmmaker. She calls the first ad in the campaign, “Doing Feels Good,” her directorial debut (see the second ad below). The ad starts with projects gone wrong to connect with those taking on new hobbies.

“It is literally me at my cottage filming it, me trying to build things. Then we just cut it really nicely and put a good voiceover on it,” said Yu. “It’s a great example of ‘let’s do something but let’s remove the intimidation factor’,” added McCuish. “You might not get it right the first time, and it might not be perfect, but it is the doing that feels good.”

That launch ad was followed by a holiday spot (“Make your holiday,” third ad below), which followed a similar focus on busy hands working on various things. Rather than depicting the challenges, however, the Christmas ad showed skilled hands making lovely gifts. “How can you make your holiday great?” says the voiceover. “Easy. Make your holiday.”

David Brown