Oliver’s Dave Carey on what it means to be CIBC’s new ‘implementation’ agency

The ad industry has long been shaped by cycles of popular thinking and evolving best practices. Decades ago, media was pulled away from creative, but is now is coming back; digital started as its own thing, then every traditional creative agency built its own digital expertise, before digital re-emerged as its a specialty again under a different name: “performance marketing.”

In CIBC’s announcement of two new ad agencies this week, we see the manifestation of a current trend: The belief that the high-level strategy and creative thinking—the imagining of brand platforms—can be one (perhaps small) agency, while another (choose your verb here) rolls it out, executes, implements, etc. across the almost limitless number of consumer touch-points.

That way of thinking has seen more brands build their own in-house agencies, and it is why Oliver was chosen as one of CIBC’s new agencies.

Courage, the buzzy—but still very small—ad agency created as part of No Fixed Address’s fast-growing agency network, will focus entirely on big ideas, while Oliver will bring those ideas to life all across the customer journey.

CIBC described the move as a “modern and agile two-agency model.” A lot of bigger agencies, especially those that have built out their production capabilities in recent years, will say they can do both just fine, thanks. But it’s also a way of thinking that underpins another buzzy Canadian agency, Broken Heart Love Affair, which created Lifelong Crush as its implementation partner.

Oliver has been in Canada for several years, but has largely operated under the radar. It doesn’t send out lot of press releases, and doesn’t show up at a lot of awards shows. Oliver isn’t about those kinds of headlines. It may not be sexy in a Cannes Lions kind of way, but Oliver is about building the teams for clients to do all of the important work that actually connect brands to people wherever the people are, and doing so really efficiently.

It’s a model that appeals to a lot of marketers, and so Oliver has been growing quickly. It was named Adweek’s fastest growing large agency last year (500+ employees) for example, and its Canadian client list may be the most impressive in the country: 7/11, ATB, WestJet/Swoop, Unilever, Molson Coors, Adidas, Manulife, Bayer and, now, CIBC.

Oliver expects to add about 35 new staff to work on CIBC, which will take it past 200 people total in Canada.

With the big win this week, many people in Canadian advertising may have renewed interest in what makes Oliver work. So The Message spoke with Oliver Canada’s managing director Dave Carey to learn more:

Oliver is known for building in-house agencies, but CIBC has not asked for that. It wants Oliver to be its “implementation agency.” What does that mean?  “We’re seeing more and more of that. It started in the UK, and I think in US in the last year we’ve been involved in more pitches where they’re picking an AOR and then an implementation agency,” said Carey.

Often that means fully in-house, but it can also mean creating a bespoke agency totally dedicated to that client, just not operating inside the client’s offices.

“In-housing is still our strength,” said Carey. “We do it very well. But there are other models out there.” In this case, Oliver is still building a team for CIBC that will exclusively work on that brand. “It’s still a model completely designed for them, we’re just not sitting in house with them.”

Can you say more about what exactly Oliver will be doing? “The scope for us is social, digital and online video,” he said. That means a lot of production, but also ideas for ads and campaigns not intended for traditional media.

In short, Courage will build the creative platforms, and Oliver will make that platform come to life across the consumer journey in multiple ways, said Carey.

That will mean a lot of the quick reaction work that has become so vital for brands today. “Where there’s an opportunity to be more culturally driven—which is the social, the digital, the programmatic—that shouldn’t take six months to get into market. That should take a couple of weeks,” he said. “So that is sort of the remit we’re going to have.”

You just hired Cameron Wykes as executive experience director for North America. Was that for CIBC? “He will be working on CIBC. It’s a big client for us. They really want to elevate their content and their digital presence, and obviously that’s Cam’s background. I would say his focus to start is going to be very much on CIBC, but he has a much bigger role within the Oliver North American network.

Cameron’s going to take a look at the clients that want to be more strategic and do insight-driven work and innovative work, whether that’s metaverse or web three or just better content.”

Will you have a CIBC creative director at Oliver? “That will be announced soon,” said Carey. “She’s just signing the contract, she is high profile, she is incredibly talented, and she’s won a ton of awards. So yeah, she will be a dedicated CIBC creative director.”

Tammy Sadinsky told us she wants ideas to come from both Courage and Oliver:  ”We have to push each other. I think Courage has to push us in a way, and I think we have to push them in a way—in the swim lanes that we’ve been hired for. Especially in the social, digital, programmatic space, that’s a lot of the work that we’re going to be doing

“And I think Courage is very open to that,” he said. “We’re lucky we worked with [Courage founders] Dhaval [Bhatt] and Joel [Holtby] on WestJet, and on Molson Coors at Rethink when they were there.… we work well with them. They respect our opinion, and obviously we respect theirs, and I think the best creative is going to come from that.”

How did Oliver do through the pandemic? “We grew. Substantially,” he said. “People were looking for cost savings, having more dedicated teams… Oliver’s numbers grew substantially during the pandemic, either organically or with new business wins.”

How does Oliver mean cost savings? In most cases it is about lower overheads if the agency team built by Oliver is working inside the client office, for example. But an Oliver-built agency team has almost everything—and everyone—needed from idea to execution.

CIBC is a perfect example of that, he said. “We’ll have animators in house, we’ll have a producer in house. We’ll have the film studio in house… we create the self-contained models. Most agencies have to go outside [for that], right?  And by a client paying for one person [on its team] to do that instead of an [outside] organization, it ends up just being more cost effective.”

David Brown