Knives out… Juniper Park\TBWA launches precision marketing practice Scalpel

It was during a global gathering of Omnicom executives in Shanghai about three years ago that Juniper Park\TBWA CEO Jill Nykoliation first used a knives analogy that has become something of a calling card.

In basic terms, her idea is that a butter knife is representative of a blunt, spread-the-message approach to advertising that is now essentially obsolete. “No one should be using a butter knife anymore,” said Nykoliation. “It’s for the old world of three TV stations. As a woman, I don’t want to be marketed to as a man.”

Many clients and agencies today, she continued, are using a steak knife. It cuts, but it’s lacks the precision and sharpness modern advertising requires. “In order to win today, you need the scalpel,” she explained. “You need to be that sharp. I’ve never met a client who says ‘Gosh, I’ve got so much money I can afford to be sloppy.'”

Three years later, Scalpel is the name of JP\TBWA’s new precision marketing practice, which combines data-driven targeting precision with creativity and cultural ideas to develop marketing that is more relevant and audience-specific.

The made-in-Canada practice is powered by several data sources, most notably Omni—Omnicom’s three-year-old proprietary audience, demographic, interest/affinity data that helps build and compare customer segments.

The newly minted practice is the formalization of an existing process within the agency that has already been used in work for clients including CIBC and Nissan. “When you brand things, it becomes really clear what their role is,” said Nykoliation of the decision to give it a name. “This is the only way we operate now, with data at the front. We’ve branded the tip of the spear of Juniper Park.”

The agency will continue to use ethnology and anthropology insights in developing creative approaches, she said, but it is the data that will enable the agency to develop creative tailored to different segments and measure their efficacy.

For CIBC, JP\TBWA used Google Director Mix to created 58 localized videos for 27 markets across the country, while for Nissan it introduced the 2021 Rogue with 156 pieces of digital video content intended to target consumers coming at a new car purchase from a variety of different angles.

“There are at least six different doorways into that SUV,” said Nykoliation. “There’s a door for families; a doorway for people who like to go off-roading on the weekend;  a door for people who prioritize safety. All of them are important, but if I know [each consumer segment] a little bit more, I’ll know which message is more relevant.”

It was when discussing the name internally that JP\TBWA’s chief creative officer Graham Lang suggested Scalpel. Actually, suggested is an understatement. “Graham said ‘For the love of God, call it Scalpel. It’s all you talk about,'” said Nykoliation.

“Scalpel says ‘precision’ in a very metaphoric and visual way,” she said. “If I have heart surgery, I do not want the surgeon using a steak knife. I want him to be really precise.”

But doesn’t a well-constructed brand ad like Wrigley’s “For when it’s time” demonstrate that mass advertising still has the power to galvanize and inspire consumers without the need to identify and target different segments, motivations, etc.?

“It’s part of the puzzle,” said Nykoliation. “There you’re looking at a universal truth that will move people emotionally. If you have that universal truth, great.”

Data can also play a role in refining communications further down the funnel, she said. One consumer might be looking to buy gum as a solution to coffee breath, for example, while someone else might be using it ensure their breath is fresh prior to a romantic encounter. “The next layer of communication on the route to [conversion] could be more specific if I knew who you were.”

Liam Steuart, a self-described “data guy at heart” who joined the agency as managing director of precision marketing in December, said that the practice is designed to meet growing consumer demand for relevant advertising. “Consumers will only respond to or engage with relevant communications, so keeping up with modern and advanced consumers is at the heart of it.”

Scalpel has also brought in Lee Lin as vice-president of data and analytics. Previously director of analytics and insights with Vision7, Lin will lead a team of data scientists, creative technologists, and strategists, said Steuart. 

The introduction of Scalpel comes just after Publicis relaunched its digital agency brand Razorfish in Canada, in response to a resurgence in digital only RFPs and the need to focus on data driven digital and social campaigns.

“[There are agencies] who do amazing brand work, amazing creative work, but we hear from clients that they don’t put the same effort in when it comes to more mid-funnel, lower funnel work,” said Alister Adams who is heading up Razorfish. “So they are seeing a need to decouple that and go back to having almost a brand agency and a performance agency.”


Chris Powell