Brand incubator Trampoline looks to provide BIPOC businesses with a sales bounce

Juniper Park\TBWA has released the first work from its Trampoline initiative, a branding incubator for BIPOC-owned small and medium-sized businesses created last year.

The work is for Neale’s Sweet N’ Nice Ice Cream, an Ontario-based premium ice cream brand specializing in Caribbean flavours like coconut, mango, pineapple coconut and guava/passion fruit. Originally started in Trinidad by Charles A. Neale in the 1940s, the brand was resurrected by his grandsons Andrew McBarnett and Stafford Attzs using his recipes (albeit tweaked for mass production) in 2014.

A video called “Nelly’s cat food” shows a woman auditioning for the role of “founder” of a cat food company (see it below). As the spot progresses, the woman anxiously enquires if she’ll have to hold a cat during the actual shoot, explaining that felines are actually “a bit creepy.”

The payoff comes with the explanation that, unlike Nelly’s, Neale’s didn’t have to come up with a fake founder to seem more authentic. The video also teases new packaging for the ice cream brand created by Juniper Park\TBWA’s design arm, Le Parc, that will appear on shelves later this year.

The ad is running across Neale’s owned and operated channels, although McBarnett said the company plans to support it with some paid digital advertising on channels including YouTube.

It is the first brand work for Neale’s, and comes at a pivotal time for the company as it pushes into Atlantic Canada and further into the Quebec market through a new partnership with Loblaw Companies Limited’s Provigo banner. The company currently has six flavours, including the newest addition to its portfolio, banana chocolate.

“Juniper Park was able to get out, in a funny and whimsical way, that we have a real founder,” said McBarnett. “It’s important when we’re promoting the brand for people to understand our story and who’s behind it: that there used to be a guy called Charles Alfred Neale who started this. They did a great job of using fun to get [the message] across.”

Trampoline arose out of what Juniper Park\TBWA president David Toto described as an internal “idea council” that was created to address what the agency called “the persistent BIPOC equity gap” in both the creative industry and society in general. It is comprised of two key elements: branding and mentorship.

“Black-owned businesses are very scarce among the types of prospects that are crossing our path,” said Toto. “There is underrepresentation for sure, so as a business operator, what can we do to bring about meaningful action? Having a diverse [staff] is one thing… but we also need to invest in the diversity of the clients we have. We want it to be real action and embed it into our business strategy.”

The partnership between Neale’s and Juniper Park\TBWA stems from the brand’s involvement with Wes Hall, an influential figure in Canadian business, and the founder and executive chairman of Kingsdale Advisors. Hall, who also founded the BlackNorth Initiative with a commitment to eliminating systemic racism last year, acquired a majority stake in Neale’s in 2019.

He subsequently introduced McBarnett and Attzs to the agency, which oversaw a new brand design that included making both Charles A. Neale and the ice cream’s ingredients more prominent on the packaging, as well as refreshing the logo and tweaking its colour scheme, etc. The redesign was originally supposed to roll out last year, but was delayed by the pandemic.

McBarnett said the Trampoline program has provided valuable assistance as he looks to grow the Neale’s brand, providing access to higher-priced advertising and strategy services that might otherwise be inaccessible to a smaller brand such as theirs.

“From ideation to execution requires a lot of time, effort and costs that a smaller company like ours might not be able to afford,” he said. “Having access to a program like [Trampoline], where you can get the level of thinking and skills around branding is critical. As a growing company you want to be able to set yourself at a certain level so that people take you seriously as a brand.”

In a new report entitled Building Black Business in Canada, the Canadian Black Chamber of Commerce identified capital and skills for advertising and promotion as one of the most pressing needs for Black business owners. In a survey of 53 Black Canadian entrepreneurs, it scored 8.7 on a 10-point scale, just ahead of personal development and mentorship (8.6) and finding capital (7.9).

Trampoline is among a wave of BIPOC-related initiatives that have sprung up in the past year as corporate Canada awakens to the systemic racism that has characterized the Black experience for decades. That racism has come in many forms, including less financial support for Black-owned startups and small businesses.

Those programs include the Government of Canada’s first-ever Black Entrepreneurship Program—a $221 million program designed to help Black business owners and entrepreneurs recover from the COVID crisis through loans and the creation of a Black entrepreneurship “knowledge hub.”

There are an estimated 1.2 million SMEs in Canada according to Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada, with 12.2% owned by visible minorities and 1.4% owned by Aboriginal persons.

A 2020 U.S. report by McKinsey said that limited access to credit was a serious issue for that country’s Black entrepreneurs. It cited a 2018 report from the Brookings Institution which found that while large banks in the U.S. approve around 60% of loans sought by white small-business owners, that number fell to just 29% among Black small-business owners

Neale said he and Attzs encountered similar resistance when it came to raising capital, although he attributed it in part to the nature of their business, which might not have the same allure for would-be investors as a company operating in something like the tech sector.

“We had a difficult time going around to the typical angel networks to raise the funding to get us to the next level,” he said. “Even when we had a brand like Sobeys on board, we still found it difficult to [do a funding round], so thankfully we lucked out in that Wes… believed in what we were doing and came on board to help push us forward to the next level.”

In addition to providing pro bono branding services to a BIPOC-owned small or medium-sized business each quarter, Juniper Park\TBWA is also offering a three-month paid internship to an aspiring BIPOC creative each quarter, providing them with what it calls “substantive work experience” and an opportunity to be mentored by leading creatives. Selected individuals will work across a range of assignments and accounts, as well as the Trampoline project.

The agency is working with a variety of external partners, industry experts, and educational institutions to identify SMEs to support and students to join the agency for the internships. A student from Ryerson University joined in the first quarter, while one from OCAD and another from The Miami Ad School respectively will join during the second and third quarters.

“Diversity, equity, and inclusion is not about intentions or promises, but meaningful action,” said Toto. “Trampoline is how Juniper Park\TBWA is acting to support BIPOC-owned companies and BIPOC new creative talents as we continue to push forth with our collective goal of reducing the equity gap.”

For McBarnett, Trampoline is a welcome sweetener for his fledging brand, and he hopes programs of this nature are broadly adopted by the industry. “This program is going to help a lot of other BIPOC companies,” he said. “And hopefully some other agencies will follow suit.”

Chris Powell