Letter to the Editor: An ‘Evolution’ towards greatness . . . if we want it

A marketing vet sounds off about the big Canadian win in Cannes.

What a wonderful achievement by Tim Piper, Mike Kirkland, the infamous Jancy team and the rest of Ogilvy Canada and, of course, the wonderful creative spirits at Unilever – principally led this time by Mark Wakefield and supported by Geoff Craig. They brought home Canada’s first ever Grand Prix at Cannes for the ‘Evolution’ film.

This was work that wasn’t supposed to have been produced, but through courage and leadership was produced. Whether you believe in the merits of creative awards shows or not, the pinnacle climbed in Cannes last week is something to be truly celebrated.

Why? Because once again it shows that in Canada, if we are brave enough to assume the mantle of leadership, we can produce great, industry-leading, business-building work.

I was fortunate enough to have had this ingrained early in my business career, while at Unilever, by no less an authority than the celebrated Peter Elwood. He’s a most deserving candidate for the Marketing Hall of Legends (if they’re smart enough to recognize his enormous contribution to influencing great work at his old alma mater of Unilever, and that of his many pupils, such as Rob Guenette at Taxi, Ian Gordon at ACLC, too many to mention still at Unilever, and even myself now at doug agency).

Prior to ‘Evolution,’ perhaps the most celebrated Dove creative to come out of Canada was the infamous ‘Litmus’ test creative in 1991. I was lucky enough at that time to be the marketing manager on Dove, working with a talented team at Ogilvy that included Janet Kestin, Nancy Vonk, David Rutherford and Dennis Stief. (Funny how all of them are still at Ogilvy weaving Dove magic.)

It was the first piece of advertising I ever worked on that went around the world, and it changed the fortunes of the Dove brand forever. That experience inspired me to believe in the power of great creative and, in turn, inspired many within Unilever to achieve numerous other awards of recognition for ground-breaking creative work.

I now work on the agency side of the business with someone who helped me build great brand communication when I was at Unilever, but I remain inspired by the power of great creative to positively change the fortunes of a business. Our motto at the doug agency is that ‘great creative builds brands faster,’ a belief firmly instilled in me tutoring under Peter and the folks at Unilever. Simple, powerful creative ideas born out of a desire to make a profound statement and take a risk. Of course, in hindsight, it never seems like taking a risk, only like capitalizing upon an insight.

I feel compelled to write this because the ability to help craft and implement great creative is within all of us practising the craft of marketing in Canada – if only we allow it to happen. That, of course, requires vision and leadership, something far too many in our community shy away from. It’s far too easy to do the safe thing, to not battle within our own complex organizations for what we believe is fundamentally right, based upon a conviction of true insight. And that means not accepting the politically acceptable, only the truly profound.

Heck, even my old corporate nemesis, P&G, gets it, and proudly walked away from Cannes as the most award-winning marketer – true testimony to its recently found belief in the power of great creative to build brands faster.

I hope everyone who is inspired by the success of ‘Evolution,’ or any of the other Canadian award-winning work from Cannes, takes a moment to step back and reflect on how that work was achieved. It was achieved through leadership inside the organization by someone who was willing to take a risk and champion an idea.

And now that I work on the agency side of the business, I realize just how special the clients are who can recognize a great idea and be willing to see it through to market implementation. These people are to be truly valued.

Leadership. It’s something to be celebrated. Something within so many of us, if only we allow it to come out. And something Canada needs ever more of.

So, congrats to the ‘Evolution’ team, and all the other winners at Cannes. May they inspire us all. I look forward to celebrating their entries at the most important awards in Canada, the CASSIES.

Mike Welling is president of the Toronto-based doug agency.