For the most part, we consider ourselves to be a business news outlet, reporting on an industry that exists to build brands, sell products and services, drive growth, and boost profits.
But we also think of ourselves as a bit like an old-school community newspaper, covering the stories that blur the lines between business and human interest—stories about people using their strategic vision and creativity to solve real-world problems, challenge entrenched thinking, and imagine new and better ways of doing all kinds of things.
On Friday, we shared our Mighty List of our favourite creative for 2022. Today, it’s the Mighty List part two: The people and the causes that moved us most this year. This is the work, the ideas, the thinking and the thinkers that make us proud to be a part of this community.
Mightiest Tip of the Cap: “Hotline Hats”
Look, I’m just gonna admit to something journalists aren’t supposed to say… we love getting free stuff. Does it mess with our objectivity? Maybe. But I know we would have put Full Punch’s “Hotline Hats” on here even if they didn’t send us our own.
The hats are a collaboration with Vancouver’s Wirth Hats, which is named for a victim of suicide, and which sends all profits to mental health initiatives. They’re green, the international colour for mental health awareness, with the emergency counselling line phone number for Wellness Together Canada, written out in gold.
The hats are meant to be conversation starters about mental health and the need for better mental health care in Canada. It’s a significant problem across the population, but the high-stress ad industry is particularly vulnerable, Full Punch’s Mike Leslie told us in June.
They want the hats to be a “beacon” for those struggling with mental health issues, and wearing one sends a message, said Leslie. “[It] says ‘I’m someone you can talk to about mental health… You get to self-identify as someone who can be supportive.”
I wore the hat often this year (ed. basically every time I saw him), and multiple times people stopped me to ask about it, and I was glad to talk to them for a moment about mental health. Job well done Full Punch. A tip of the cap from The Message. — D.B.
Mightiest Real-Time Marketer: Dove
Quick-twitch marketing created in response to real-world events can be a double-edged sword. It can be a way for brands to naturally slip into the cultural conversation, but can also backfire if done sloppily. Dove got it right not once, but twice this year.
First, with #KeepTheGrey it changed the colour of its iconic Dove logo from white to grey in solidarity with longtime CTV National News anchor Lisa LaFlamme, who was abruptly let go by Bell Media during the summer, with multiple reports saying it was because she had allowed her natural hair to show on the nightly newscast.
It served as something of a how-to for brands looking to naturally enter the cultural conversation without gimmickry or overreaching. Remarkably, the Unilever brand was back at it just one month later, when Dove Men+Care created the “Sponsorship for Sportsmanship” honouring Toronto Blue Jays star pitcher Alek Manoah, for quickly coming to teammate Alejandro Kirk’s defence after he was fat-shamed by a broadcaster.
Dove Men+Care subsequently enlisted Manoah—with whom it had no prior relationship—for a quick video shoot outside the Rogers Centre for an ad produced in time for that evening’s Jays game.
“We’re listening to conversations that are meaningful to consumers, but we will only speak to them when we can credibly do so and it’s ownable to us as a brand,” said Laura Douglas, Dove brand lead and growth manager at Unilever Canada. Mission (quickly) accomplished. —C.P.
Mightiest Ad Checkers: Check My Ads
Claire Atkin and Nandini Jammi, both former marketers, launched the Check My Ads Institute last year with a pretty important purpose: to fight the spread of racism, hatred, lies and misinformation online.
But rather than go directly after those spreading the hatred and lies, they want to cut off as much of their financial support as possible, which comes from, yep, marketers.
You see, there is a flaw at the heart of the digital advertising ecosystem. More specifically, the programmatic ad system, which is today’s digital advertising.
Often inscrutable ad tech makes it very difficult for advertisers to know where their ads go, which makes it possible for some of those who are trading in hate and other dangerous content to earn ad revenue from brands without the brands even realizing it.
“They’re collecting ad dollars from unsuspecting advertisers,” Atkin, who is based in Vancouver, told us when we spoke with her at the very end of last year. “And we know now that advertisers don’t want to be there. We know that advertisers don’t want to be funding disinformation, or bigotry or racism.”
They’re right, of course. It’s a problem that must be fixed. So we’re glad Atkin and Jammi are standing up and speaking out; they’re picking fights with bullies and bigots, and we’re right behind them. We just hope more marketers—and the ad tech industry—will listen to them in 2023. —D.B.
Mightiest Correction: “Missing Matoaka”
Recent years have seen Canada trying to come to reconcile its abhorrent treatment of Indigenous peoples. And while cultural depictions might not seem as damaging as residential schools or stealing or polluting land, they have spread mistruths about the Indigenous experience by presenting it through the lens of white settlers.
“Missing Matoaka,” a project created by BBDO Canada for the arts and culture magazine Muskrat, boldly attempted to correct some of those misconceptions by reimagining the story of Pocahontas. While the popular story tends to present it as a love story, in which a young Indigenous girl falls in love with a European settler, the creators of “Missing Matoaka” argue that she was actually the first in an untold number of missing and murdered Indigenous women over the centuries.
They worked with a team of Indigenous writers, researchers, and voice actors to create an alternate soundtrack to a popular Pocahontas movie, painstakingly matching the grittier retelling to the film’s visuals. The recreated film reveals that Matoaka (Pocahontas’s real name) was still a child when she was forced to marry one of her captors and taken to Europe, later dying while attempting to escape.
BBDO executive creative director Derek Blais, a member of the Oneida Nation of the Thames, whose grandmother was sent to a residential school and whose mother was taken from her family as part of the infamous “60s Scoop,” called it the most important project of his career. — C.P.
Mightiest Impact: “All is Beauty”
Easily the most read story of the year at The Message was our late October post about the Simons “All is Beauty” campaign, which launched with a film about a terminally ill woman, Jennyfer, choosing to end her life with medical assistance.
We debated at length about putting this one on our Mighty List. The launch film (now deleted from official channels following a nasty backlash) was a remarkable piece of work. But I also know people in the industry, whose opinions I respect, hated it, believing that it was brand purpose gone too far or, worse, morally reprehensible to put a logo on a video about a women’s death.
When I first saw it, I instinctively recoiled a little. But as we worked on our story and l watched Peter Simons interview-style explainer video and listened—really listened—to what he said, my thinking changed.
I chose to believe him that Jennyfer’s story was not about her death, but rather her ability to find beauty in the world. To do so in the most difficult moments can lead to hope and human connection, he said. And it can lead to generosity. “We decided to try to tell her story and to—as Jennyfer would say to me—maybe create a little ripple out there, a ripple of generosity,” he said.
For many reasons, the world has felt like a dark place the past couple of years. So much so that expressions of hope can feel like an act of rebellion. But that is how the light gets in and reveals what is still beautiful. And if you really listen to Jennyfer’s words, you realize that’s what she believed too. “And in these final moments, there is still so much beauty,” she said. “You just have to be brave enough to see it.” — D.B.
Mightiest Return to Work Wherever Policy: “Work Away Benefit”
Working from home obviously became the norm during the pandemic, but Media Profile took the idea even further this year by giving employees the opportunity to work from anywhere but home.
The Toronto PR shop offered employees a $3,000 “Work Away Benefit” at the beginning of the year, with anyone who’d been with the agency for at least six months permitted to participate, as long as they worked on EST time. “I just wanted to give people a different view, instead of looking out the same window or at the same walls while they’re working,” explained president Alison King at the time.
This week, King said that the program has been a “huge success,” helping the agency from both a recruitment and retention perspective. Outside of some spotty wifi, there were no real issues with how the work got done, she added.
In total, about 25 of the agency’s more than 40 employees participated in the program. Three employees pooled their money to rent an apartment in Paris, while three others rented a villa in St. Maarten. Others went to Switzerland and Italy, scattered across North America.
The company was so encouraged by employee uptake that it plans to bring the “Work Away Benefit” back in 2023 (future trips include Dubai, Brazil and Germany). It was a bold decision that underscored the fundamental shift in attitudes towards how work gets done by both employees and some progressive employers. — C.P.
Mightiest Story Series: “4,000 Cover Stories”
This is the second campaign inspired by the shameful mistreatment of our Indigenous population to make our list, and it’s hard to say whether it’s heartening that their mistreatment is finally being acknowledged, or disappointing that it took so long.
The truth is that there are enough stories of Canada’s missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls to fill a book. So that’s what Forsman & Bodenfors, alongside partners Veritas and PHD Canada, did with “4,000 Cover Stories,” a thought-provoking campaign for the Native Women’s Resource Centre of Toronto.
Senior copywriter Darby Clarke and F&B staffers combed through court documents from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, as well as local media coverage, to assemble an eight-inch thick, 25-pound tome containing 4,000 stories of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls over the last 30 years.
Each page featured a QR code linking to a dedicated page on the NWRCT and pre-populating an email to Primie Minister Justin Trudeau demanding that he begin enacting the 231 Calls for Justice to emerge from the National Inquiry.
The book was dropped off at the Prime Minister’s residence on the National Day of Action for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, the same day it was unveiled during a rally at the Ontario legislature. Mostly a PR-driven effort, it received coverage from more than 23 media outlets (including a 23-minute interview with NWRCT’s executive director Pamela Hart on CBC Metro Morning) resulting in more than three million impressions. — C.P.
Mightiest Pipeline Fix: “This Is The Job”
The industry has talked a lot about systemic racism in the past couple of years, but Scott Pinkney, Jessica Carnegie, and a group of Publicis employees launched ThisIsTheJob.org late last year to do something about it.
To restate the problem, the ad industry has been disproportionately white since, well, forever. And when young people of colour don’t have friends, family, and mentors in the industry, they are less likely to even consider it. In other words, fewer BIPOC in the industry means young BIPOC are less likely to consider it as a profession, which means fewer BIPOC in the industry.
This Is The Job was created to break that vicious cycle. The idea was to reach out to kids in high school to get them thinking about a career in advertising, media, and marketing. The site includes profiles and descriptions for 25 jobs in six different categories. Students complete a “quiz” about themselves, and get three to five job suggestions that fit their passions.
In the past year, This is the Job has hosted more than 19,000 sessions, and thousands more job profile inquiries. They conducted five virtual classroom presentations to more than 400 young people to share their individual experiences in advertising.
Pinkney, who has worked in advertising for more than 35 years, knows that This Is The Job might not have an impact for years, but structural change means fixing the foundation. “Everybody is talking about the right things, [but] the key is action,” he said. “We think this is action.” —D.B.
Mightiest Écologiste: Masse Critique
Like most of us, Valérie Vedrines was increasingly concerned about the planet in recent years. Unlike most of us, Vedrines quit her job to do something about it.
With more than a decade in the fashion industry, most recently as vice-president of marketing for Reitmans Canada, Vedrineshad been looking for ways her brands could be more environmentally friendly, but eventually realized that wasn’t enough. “I wanted to do more,” she told us. “So that is exactly what I’m trying to do, why I left my job and am trying to put this together.”
This is Masse Critique, which she launched in September, a non-profit with a singular focus on reducing the ad industry’s impact on the environment—which is, if we’re being honest, significant. For decades marketing functioned with little consideration for long-term environmental impact: build more, sell more, make more, repeat. Very few businesses or brands operate that way anymore, but there’s much more to do.
The goal for Masse Critique is to bring the industry together, starting in Quebec, to share best practices, inspire new ideas and innovation, to “be the critical mass that breaks the mold,” was how Vedrines put it. To use some of that creativity, which is its lifeblood of the industry, to imagine new and better ways forward for the industry. “We’re going to make a community,” she told us. “All of us together, going in the same direction.” — D.B.
Mightiest Reclamation Project: “Reclaim Your Name”
What we love most about “Reclaim Your Name” is that it’s a perfect example of how our industry excels at creative thinking that can be applied to real-world problems to drive meaningful change.
The idea was born out of a simple but recurring issue for Asians: The red squiggle that appears under their name whenever they use MS Word. It’s a subtle yet constant reminder of their “other-ness” in a world where so many of its tools and systems were developed by white people, and another example of insidious but casual racism faced by the country’s ethnic population on a regular basis.
“Seeing red under your name says in the language of software what is left unsaid in society: If you don’t have an Anglicized name, you don’t belong,” said Elimin8Hate when it introduced “Reclaim Your Name” with Citizen Relations in July.
It consists of a .dic plug-in for Word that features over 1,000 names from more than one dozen Asian countries, and enables people to add names. The download was brought to life through a powerful out-of-home campaign featuring messages like “How many spelling bees do South Asian kids have to win before spell check gets a name like Suchiththa right?” — C.P.