Outsider takes road less travelled, and wins agency of the year
Strategy, May 2020
If you’re looking for one of Canada’s most innovative and celebrated agencies, head east.
Stop when you run out of Canada.
“Any further east, and you’d be getting wet,” says Catherine Kelly, director of account management at Target. “We’re outsiders.
We’re closer to Dublin than Detroit. This place gives us a very unique perspective on how to size-up a problem, and how to create an unexpected solution for our clients.”
Located in a waterfront heritage building, on the oldest street in the oldest city in North America, Target is a full-service boutique made up of 40 ad pros from around the world. The agency constantly punches above its weight when it comes to winning awards for creativity and advertising effectiveness.
For example, Target won strategy’s Small Agency of the Year 2019. It’s a top 16 creative shop on strategy’s Creative Report Card again this year. It’s one of only 20 Canadian agencies to ever win a Gold Lion at Cannes. It’s won multiple Gold CASSIES for advertising effectiveness, including the Grand Prix. And, if there’s an award for natural born storytellers, they’d probably win that, too.
What’s more, they’d be happy about it. This band of rebels and “Outsiders” celebrates the fact that they are located far from the bellybutton of adland. “We’re outside the box. We’re surrounded and influenced by a very different people and culture, architecture, creativity, and sense of humour,” says Noel O’Dea, president and founder. “We can’t help but see things differently, or take a different perspective.
And that leads to surprising ideas, 180˚ different from the usual.” No cookie-cutter solutions from Target. “We avoid the ubiquitous ‘Best Practices’ like the plague,” says O’Dea. “Because Best Practices are all about uniformity and predictability. That’s the antithesis of surprise and differentiation. If a brand is undifferentiated, it is nothing but a commodity, lacking a competitive advantage, and the love and loyalty of customers.”
Target is best known for the hugely successful Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism campaigns.
That one-two punch of innovation and efficacy also shows in its work over the years for Maple Leaf Foods and Unilever, PureGold and Aurora, Rogers and Bell, Labatt and Molson, and Air Canada brands Tango, Zip and Jazz.
“We see creativity as a powerful business tool,” says Jef Combden, director of communications
planning. “Newfoundland is bursting at the seams with creativity, storytellers, and artists. That immersive cultural influence inspires and shapes everything we do, from our strategic planning approach to our creative and branding work.”
Creative storytelling does seem to be at the heart of Target’s DNA. “We love creating advertising that doesn’t look or feel like advertising,” says O’Dea. “We dig deep to discover a brand’s true personality.
Then we create stories that people want to hear and see, that can sweep people off their feet in a memorable way. It’s never about the latest bling; it’s about baking in respect and humanity.” “We get hundreds of love letters,” says Kelly. “The latest arrived in an envelope addressed to ‘The ad agency that makes the Tourism ads, Newfoundland.’ We are committed to doing emotional work that makes people ‘feel’ something, that moves them, that evokes laughter or love. That people remember.” These days, in an over-communicated world, where people don’t know who to trust or what to believe, Target’s philosophy and approach seems on the mark.
As it celebrates its 40th anniversary, Target is still “working our buns off to stay small,” says O’Dea. “We’re not doing this to scale up and sell out. We love what we do. Our sweet spot is 40 people because there’s no bureaucracy, no red tape, and no BS. Our senior people love to be hands-on, working with clients. This is not complicated. This is fun.”
On results, Kelly says “We make the cash register ring for our clients. We dig deep. We choose the road less travelled. In many ways, our Newfoundland location is our secret ingredient. (You’re not going to print that, are you?)” “We don’t report to New York or Paris, we report to no one but ourselves, and our clients,” concludes O’Dea. “And our Moms.”