BMO and FCB win Grand Effie

New York Yankees legend Reggie Jackson was known for a big swing that produced 563 home runs, good for 14th place on the all-time leader list. But that same swing also resulted in an astonishing 2,597 career strikeouts, most among the more than 20,000 players who have ever played in the bigs.

The “big swing” was a recurring theme during the annual Canadian Marketing Effectiveness Summit Thursday, a metaphor for the risk-reward proposition faced by marketers willing to swing for the fences. That big swing can sometimes result in an embarrassing miss, but can also yield immense rewards.

Which, in a roundabout way, brings us to “NXT LVL,” an indisputably big swing by BMO and its agency partner FCB Canada that not only resulted in this year’s Grand Effie, but also Marketer and Agency of the Year accolades for the longtime partners. Run by the ICA in Canada, the Effies emphasize campaign effectiveness alongside pure creativity.

BMO’s “NXT LVL” was developed with the goal of winning over younger consumers skeptical of the big banks. It took the shape of a dedicated channel on the video game streaming platform Twitch, with a “gaming relations specialist” dispensing financial advice while running and gunning through video games.

Banks, and Canada’s big five in particular, aren’t exactly known for being synonymous with youth culture, meaning that BMO risked giving off what we described in our initial story about “BMO NXT LVL” as a “how do you do, fellow kids?” vibe in a space populated predominantly by the young ‘uns.

But the Effie judges appreciated that BMO acted like a true denizen of the Twitch community, said Dustin Rideout, co-chair of this year’s jury, and partner, chief strategy officer with The Hive, noting that the “gaming relations specialist” was an actual BMO employee and a gaming enthusiast.

The initiative also stood out to judges because it required a certain amount of risk to show up in an a space where the conversations can be unscripted and off-the-cuff, making them impossible to moderate—no easy feat for a business category not exactly known for a willingness to embrace risk.

“There was no trick to it. It was just genuine and honest, and they committed to it,” said Rideout, joking that the program—which also won a Gold Lion in the Creative Commerce category at Cannes this year—must have caused some real anxiety for BMOs lawyers.

“They proved that when you want to attract a new audience… you can go to new spaces where they are, and participate in a way that they would expect, and they will like you,” he said. “They had great results in sign-ups, great results in terms of perception of the brand, and the level of engagement they created from an always-on approach really did pay dividends.”

Banks made up two of the four Gold winners eligible for the Grand Effie, with Scotiabank’s “First Day” also eligible for the show’s most prestigious award.

“Both BMO and Scotiabank showed very good discipline [built on] a very sharp insight, both of their cases were incredibly well thought through, the programs were focused on an audience in a meaningful way,” said Rideout. “They were very good ideas, beautifully crafted initiatives, and respectful of the audience they were going after.”

FCB was a double Gold winner on the day for both BMO and Sobey’s/Voila’s “Trending 2 Table,” earning it Agency of the Year honours. Diamond’s “BeyondLIMITS” for Fairmont Hotels & Resorts was the other Gold Effie winner.

Speaking with The Message, FCB’s CEO Bryan Kane said the Effies, and their emphasis on campaign results, have become a welcome antidote to the skepticism surrounding advertising awards shows, calling the wins an “important moment” for the agency.

“The alignment between our values as an agency and the Effies makes this an acknowledgement that has a lot of value for us, both as an agency, but also in our shared belief with BMO, and how we’ve worked towards this end over many years,” he said. “It’s not a one-off thing—it’s building a relationship and really nurturing that belief in creativity and proving the impact it has to businesses.”

Speaking to the success of “NXT LVL,” he said it reflected an understanding of what matters to the target audience and their behaviour, and finding a way to complement it, rather than simply finding out where the target is, and interrupting them with messaging.

Kane also singled out BMO’s marketing team for having the audacity to take a “big swing,” particularly in a category that is generally safe and constrained.

“They don’t want to do the best [financial services] work in Canada, they want to do the best work in the world,” he said. “That’s the bar they’ve set, so a lot of the credit goes to the marketing leadership at BMO, which really looked beyond the category, which historically has not been producing the best work.”

In that regard, BMO hit it out of the park.

Chris Powell