Brain Canada ran a print ad targeting one person: Shopify founder Tobi Lütke

Print newspapers aren’t the first medium that comes to mind when we think of highly targeted advertising, but Brain Canada took the unusual approach of addressing one specific high-profile Canadian last week.

The ad was part of the organizaion’s publicity efforts around Brain Awareness Week, a global initiative that runs every March. First launched in 1996, its goal is to foster public enthusiasm and support for brain science.

The full page ad in Monday’s edition of The Globe and Mail contained a message to Tobi Lütke, the founder and CEO of Canadian ecommerce platform Shopify. It read: “Every donation makes a difference, so you don’t need to be Tobi Lütke. And if you are Tobi Lütke, we’d love to talk.”

With a reported net worth of US$10 billion according to Forbes, Lütke is uniquely able to make a material donation to fund brain research if he chooses. “It’s obvious you could fund a major advancement in Brain Science,” reads the accompanying copy. “Like a headline-worthy discovery in Alzheimer’s, Autism or mental health.”

The long-copy ad—or at least what passes for long copy in this era of 280 characters and shrinking attention spans—was developed by Disruptincy, the Toronto agency led by Geoffrey Roche and Jack Harding.

Roche said he was inspired to create the ad after reading Lütke’s 2019 interview with Report on Business, in which the executive identified mental health and computer literacy as two of the main causes he’d like to support through philanthropic efforts. Lütke has also previously pledged support for initiatives such as #BellLetsTalk.

“We wanted to try and have some fun with it,” explained Roche. “A lot of the audience that [Brain Canada] would be speaking to still reads the paper version of the Globe. I find that with the paper edition, I tend to read more than I do with the digital edition. You tend to pick up on something you might not see otherwise.”

Roche says they even toyed with the idea of creating a 1-800 number, with an outbound message instructing callers to press 1 if they were Tobi Lütke or 2 if not, but abandoned the idea because of time constraints. There’s no indication that Lütke saw the ad, said Roche (Shopify did not respond to interview requests).

With copy by Toronto’s Rich Cooper and art direction/design by Chelsea Cardinal (a Canadian designer now living in New York, whose portfolio includes work for Wealthsimple Magazine and the jacket design for the 2017 Man Booker Prize winner Lincoln in the Bardo), the ad highlights some of Brain Canada’s accomplishments since it was established in 1998, including more than 300 research grants and more than 1,000 researchers funded.

Based in Montreal, Brain Canada describes itself as a “national convenor of the community of those who support and advance brain research.” The organization’s primary objectives are increasing the scale and scope of funding to accelerate the pace of Canadian brain research; creating a collective commitment to brain research across the public, private and voluntary sectors; and delivering transformative, original and outstanding research programs.

Chris Powell