Being an outsider helps the agency see things differently
Strategy, May 2019
In Newfoundland, a place known for being off-kilter and nonconformist, Target fits right in. Target’s outsider reputation is firmly rooted in St. John’s, which, at first glance, seems an unlikely place to run a creative agency.
But since everything in Newfoundland is seen through a cultural lens unlike any other on the planet, how could it be located anywhere else? “Newfoundland is our secret ingredient, our most powerful differentiator,” says Noel O’Dea, the director of strategic and creative planning who founded the shop in 1980. “We see things differently here, and that changes how we think, how we go about solving a problem.”
O’Dea says Newfoundland is bursting with creativity, writers, storytellers, musicians and artists. “That inspires and shapes everything, and powers our strategic thinking and creative work for brands. Clients love the unconventional and unexpected perspective we bring to the table.”
Clients probably don’t mind the results either. Target’s won multiple golds at the CASSIES for advertising effectiveness, even taking home a Grand Prix. Those awards join hundreds of others – from the Gold Lion (which it won for Irving Oil’s retail business), to London International statues, and this year strategy ranked Target in the top 15 on its Creative Report Card.
While Target is best known for its destination branding and tourism work for Newfoundland and Labrador, it has deep experience working for clients in a wide range of categories – Maple Leaf Foods and Unilever, Rogers and Bell, Molson and Labatt, and several Air Canada brands.
“Smart clients are always searching for the road less traveled in order to differentiate their brands and break away from the competitive pack. We take the road less travelled,” says 20-year Target veteran Catherine Kelly, director of account management.
Still, Target’s “Find Yourself” tourism campaign is perhaps a rarity in advertising. “It is not a lie,” says Kelly. “It’s not pretending to sell Newfoundland as something it’s not. It is true to the place, the people, and the culture. And it works gangbusters.”
But it’s doing that in strategic, targeted ways. Past the gorgeous cinema and TV spots are robust mobile and geo-targeting digital campaigns that Kelly says target well-educated and sophisticated travellers seeking authentic cultural experiences instead of the manufactured experiences of ordinary tourist destinations.
Since 2005, the “Find Yourself” campaign has become recognized as the most successful, most awarded tourism campaign in North America with more than 330 awards for creative, brand building and effectiveness.
All of that success grows from one office on the St. John’s waterfront and its close-knit group of about 40 staffers from around the world. O’Dea says 40 is their “sweet spot” because there’s “no bureaucracy and no BS. Our senior people get to be 100% hands-on working with clients, rather than ‘administrating’. We love what we do. That’s the magic of small.”
In that unpretentious office, high on the wall is Target’s mantra – “Creativity is a powerful business tool,” a reminder to those 40 “outsiders” of what sets them apart. “We love underdogs,” said Kelly. “We love being outsiders. And we always, always dig deep to discover the elusive road less travelled.”