Next Media Stars: Starcom MediaVest Group’s Brian Chan builds new connections

As one of the brains behind the award-winning Johnnie Walker campaign, Chan shares with MiC how it felt to receive recognition for the ethnic advertising execution, as well as the strategy behind his latest work for Kellogg's.

With the help of top brass at media agencies across the country, strategy uncovered the brightest young media minds – the next-gen strategists and planners who are breaking new ground, taking campaigns to the next level and delivering results. Starcom MediaVest Group’s strategy supervisor Brian Chan will be the final profile featured in the series. The Next Media Star winner will be chosen by our Media Agency of the Year jury and announced in strategy‘s November issue.

Claim to fame

It’s quite an about-face to shift media gears from promoting the cool strut of Johnnie Walker’s Striding Man to the boisterous bounce of Tony the Tiger. But Brian Chan’s devotion to connecting consumers with brands in innovative ways is evident in both, starkly different campaigns.

In partnership with Corus Television’s YTV, this April Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes launched a four-phase program focused on inspiring kids to get outside, get active and have fun through sport.

Several challenges presented themselves with the campaign, says Chan, strategy supervisor at SMG, not the least of which was trying to get kids to play outside while targeting them where they spend most of their time – in front of the television and computer. The plan was to motivate kids to get active through an online sports portal that would give them some cool, sporty ideas.

‘One of the things that we discovered when we were doing our plans for digital was that there were not really any high-traffic kids sports portals out there,’ says Chan. So for the program they built their own hub called ‘Show Your Stripes League.’

Through each sports phase in the year-round campaign (hockey, soccer, basketball and the final one to be chosen by the kids) the site hosts video, games and printable instructions on new activities they can try. Each weekend a young sports reporter, selected by Chan, is on the scene with new challenges that viewers can attempt too. The segments are broadcast on YTV’s Saturday morning cartoon block The Crunch, as well as online.

‘This is one of those areas where we got to play so many different roles,’ says Chan. And wearing different hats – from event planner to casting panelist to ‘brand custodian’ – is what he likes about the job. ‘I think that’s what makes the industry exciting, but it’s also something clients and other stakeholders need to realize as well. It’s a lot of extra work,’ says Chan.

Chan has a background in theatre production and visual arts. He had a chance to apply some of his natural creativity last Chinese New Year on the award-winning Johnnie Walker campaign that promoted the Diageo-owned scotch within three ethnic Chinese sub-groups.

With the goal to increase Johnnie Walker consumption among Chinese-Canadian scotch drinkers – a demo described as well-educated, ambitious and driven by family values – Chan helped turn a valued Chinese tradition into an advertising medium just six weeks after the briefing.

In Toronto’s Pacific Mall, North America’s largest indoor Asian shopping centre, consumers were directed by Cantonese and Mandarin-speaking models to world-renowned calligrapher Guan Sui Sheng, who created a unique Johnnie Walker-branded Fai Cheun – greeting posters with gold or black characters on red paper that are posted on walls and doors in homes and businesses. Those consumers then willingly put up the ads in their own homes, offices and businesses.

‘It took a lot of qualitative research,’ says Chan. ‘Luckily I’m Chinese and my parents immigrated to the country, so I had some insight into targeting the Chinese community.’ But his personal assumptions were also leveraged with research from ethnic media specialists who offered their insights into target behaviour. ‘That gave us licence to touch upon this tradition and elevate it, which is what we tried to do with the campaign,’ says Chan. More than 110,000 people visited the calligraphy stations, and by mid-2008, for the first time in the brand’s history, Johnnie Walker became the number one deluxe scotch whisky in Canada.

Also for Diageo, in late 2007, SMG helped the Striding Man plant his footprint on CalgaryInc magazine’s Business Person of the Year issue, with a walk that begins on the back cover and lands on the front. Also, as a first in Canada, the Striding Man broke through the barcode with the words ‘Keep Walking’ written beneath. The month the ads ran, Johnnie’s premium Blue Label grew by 258% versus the prior year and Johnnie’s staple Black Label grew by 19% in Alberta, while key competitors fell by 14%.

About Chan

Chan, 27, graduated from the University of Michigan with a bachelor of business administration from the Ross School of Business. He initially wanted an investment banking job in the U.S., but then realized it wasn’t for him. He thought the best way to use his creativity would be in marketing.

‘I interviewed for marketing jobs but I didn’t have a green card. So the only solution was to marry an American really fast in order to get my green card and get a job,’ jokes Chan. ‘Or the other option was to interview with companies with Canadian offices.’ In 2004, SMG Chicago referred him to the Toronto office, where he’s been ever since.

What are you most proud of, professionally?

‘I was proud of the fact that people were seeing that ethnic advertising has value, and it’s largely untapped. There’s a lot of room for media innovation, it’s very flexible cost-wise. From a client’s perspective, I think if they see work like this, then hopefully other clients will jump on board and see that if you do your homework and you do enough research into the target, and you do it the right way, then it has a lot of value and it will bring a lot of sales results simply because most national advertisers typically ignore the ethnic populations in Canada.’

Where do you see yourself in the future?

‘I’d like to see what the media industry is like in other countries. It’s a pretty regulated industry for advertising in Canada. I’d like to see how it’s different for other countries and what kind of freedom you can possible have. Particularly China, because it intrigues me. It’s such an emerging market as well, because they’re adopting western sensibilities. I think it would be fun.’