A new story about No Name’s meta advertising (now on Instagram)

Who: Loblaw Companies Ltd., including its in-house agency Loblaw Agency, with John St. for strategy and creative, Gorditas for production (directed by Nicolas Monette), media by Loblaw Media and Dentsu.

What: New advertising—TV and Instagram—for No Name’s Simple Check logo.

Where & When: The 30-second TV spot started running earlier this month in French and English, while a new No Name Instagram account quietly appeared late last month and has shared 11 posts since then.

Why: Two years ago, No Name’s Twitter account and subsequent TV ad was one of breakthrough campaigns of the summer (at least, we thought so). It was idiosyncratic verging on eccentric, but charming and engaging in its simplicity, a reflection of the brand itself.

The brief for this campaign wasn’t all that different from the campaign John St. did two years ago, said chief creative officer Cher Campbell. Loblaw wanted to promote the Simple Check logo that appears on most No Name packaging, signifying products made without 10 specific ingredients.

“This is about making sure the No Name brand is seen as what it is,” said Campbell. “There are quality products in there, not just inexpensive products, but quality products… That’s always been the vision.”

The creative challenge was to communicate that message in a way that embodies the tone and the voice of the brand and its unique, instantly recognizable plain yellow and black packaging.

The can of peas test: For John St., any creative idea for No Name gets compared with No Name’s can of peas, said Campbell. “The peas just say ‘Peas: Assorted sizes.’ No other can of peas would say that… we always try to embody the can of peas in everything that we do.”

How: By going very, very meta: It’s a commercial that straight-up tells you it’s a commercial. Just like a can of peas says it’s a can of peas (of assorted sizes).

Much like the TV spot from two years ago, the new ad features characters in an all-yellow setting with items featuring matter-of-fact labels plainly stating what they are. In this case, the characters themselves are labelled: Relatable adult, adorable child #1, and adorable child #2.

Child #1 does most of the work, introducing No Name Blueberry bagels and explaining how they are made without the 10 ingredients absent from Simple Check products. All three of the actors are awkwardly stiff—like they’re reading the lines and getting direction for the first time.

“When I think about No Name, I think about it as an entity versus a group of people. As though No Name itself—the brand, not the people—is the thing that’s actually executing,” said Campbell.

The idea behind this campaign is that No Name, the entity that once decided consumers need to know that the peas in its can come in assorted sizes, made an ad and decided the acting wasn’t important as long as the humans were “relatable” and “adorable,” and told consumers about the product. “The same way you don’t need the packaging to be embellished, you don’t need the acting to be embellished either. You need to deliver the information,” said Campbell.

Instagram: Much like the Twitter feed launched in 2019, the Instagram account is equally meta, using the platform to poke playful fun at the cliches of the platform itself. Instead of posting pictures on a platform that is all about pictures, No Name simply describes what those pictures would look like—with its customary black Helvetica copy on a yellow background.

“Inspirational quote attributed to the wrong historical figure,” reads one featuring the caption “no name cream of mushroom condensed soup — albert einstein.”

“We want to let Canadians know that there are new No Name Simple Check products arriving in our stores, with the great quality and value they’ve grown to love from this brand,” said Meghan Nameth, senior vice-president, marketing, Loblaw Companies Limited.

“Our consumers love Instagram and so do we… but we had to do it as only No Name could. The simplicity of the first post being ‘selfie a photo of me’ was perfect.  From there, the humour of the brand really comes through in other posts and they really make me smile.”

So far the account has only posted 11 times, and grown (as of Tuesday afternoon) to 2,490 followers.

What’s next: There is nothing planned for John St. at the moment, but Campbell said the idea behind the new TV ad could become the foundation for an ongoing campaign: Whereas the first ad was employees in the No Name office explaining No Name to the viewer, the new ad is also about a typical grocery product ad, and they could do other ads about other grocery product ads.

“You have a role for product versus just the brand… You could do myriad products with this,” said Campbell. This ad adopted the typical devices and cliches of a bagel ad, but the next ad could play with another format. “You could just keep doing whatever the product was… the standard advertising trope setting that you would normally see in a slice-of-life commercial, and just strip away all of the set dressing and everything else, and just create that yellow world. You can do everything you’ve ever seen in advertising.”

David Brown