Let’s talk more about Canadian design

Last week, I got a good reminder of much that is great about Canadian marketing right now, as we at The Message found ourselves in the unique situation of attending two of Canada’s most important awards shows on back-to-back nights.

On Thursday, it was the ADCCs in mid-town Toronto, hosted by the Advertising & Design Club of Canada. On Friday it was the Canadian Marketing Association’s CMAs at their long-time home at the Westin on the shores of Lake Ontario. While both shows have essentially the same mandate—celebrate the best of Canadian commercial creativitythey (thankfully) delivered decidedly distinct experiences.

The ADCC stayed true to its tradition of being the creatives’ creative show, an informal, often playful event with more production and agency folks—and fewer clients—in attendance, and an emphasis on the next generation that means a younger crowd overall.

The CMAs were, as always, a more formal affair, with nearly 1,000 people, including many marketers, dressed to impress, enjoying an elegant dinner in what has long felt like the kick-off to the industry’s holiday events season (even if it was a week earlier than normal).

Thanks perhaps to different entry windows and distinct judging processes, there was also a surprising amount of variety in the winning work itself. While Rethink, and client Kraft Heinz in particular, dominated the ADCCs, they did not overload the CMAs, for example.

While we’d seen almost all of the work before, the nights provided a pleasant review of the innovative thinking and clever strategy that is coming out of Canadian agencies right now—much of it either based on a true business problem-solving insight, or grounded in non-traditional media channels. It’s been about more than traditional TV for a long time now, and Canada is doing just fine.

But one moment that really stood out for me was the beautifully executed craft and simple charm of the winning design work at the ADCCs, which has always elevated design in a way other awards shows tend not to (except for the The Association of Registered Graphic Designers, of course).

As the winning work was presented on the large screen over the stage, I was struck by the beauty and charm of the work. From typefaces to illustration, the idiosyncratic packaging, the pops of colour, the sometimes subtle design elements that, once you see them, almost always bring a smile.

All powerful and evocative brand experiences without any script or copywriting, or paid media behind them—the ability to say so much without saying anything at all.

And a lot of it from design focused agencies that may be well-known in the community, but that we don’t talk about enough, Gold winners like Paprika (including the CNA French Theatre posters above), Criterium, SuperFantasic, Blok, and Caserne, which won the Scarlet Letter as best Design Studio, along with 11 awards in total.

I also realized that we at The Message can do something about the fact we don’t talk about them enough. Going forward, we are going to try to do better—to talk more about the amazing design work being done in Canada.

So consider this an open invitation to all those amazing designers and design shops from coast to coast to coast: send us your work and we’ll endeavour to cover it more. Ideally, those design names can become as ubiquitous and well-known as the advertising agencies we so often talk about.

David Brown