Award winning Toronto based digital agency John St. have come up with some of our favorite viral video ad campaigns over the years. They’ve produced great campaigns including “Rethink Breast Cancer: Your Man Reminder,” a swan song social media campaign for Canadian mass merchandiser Zeller’s, and three brilliant ads for themselves, including Catvertising and Buyral, which we wrote about recently.
I got the chance to talk to John St.’s Creative Director Angus Tucker about these powerful video ads, their philosophy on how to make brands “unignorable,” and the exciting age in which we live where brands can experiment cheaply and should be taking advantage of the times.
Making Brands Unignorable via Video – Interview with John St.
ReelSEO: Give us a little background on John St.
Angus Tucker: We started the agency about 11 years ago, in 2001. The five of us were in an agency called Ammirati Puris Toronto, and decided to take a leap, and open our own place. We had no clients, which was tricky. We did that 11 years ago and we’re now about 100 people.
We just try to do work that we’re proud of that our clients really love: advertisement people actually like to look at, talk about, and reward them, as opposed to the stuff that makes you want to kill yourself.
RSEO: John St.’s tagline is “unignorable.” What makes a brand unignorable?
Tucker: An unignorable brand is a brand that basically doesn’t do what other brands do. We like to call it, “Killing the Sacred Cows” that seem to exist in every category. Like with toilet paper, it’s always kind of the side-by-side demos. Like their toilet paper versus our toilet paper. In hair care it’s kind of the spinning hair in slow motion. With cars it’s a beautiful car driving down this gorgeous ocean view.
It’s almost like those are rules that someone said you have to follow if you’re going to do effective work in this category or that category – but we think it just makes your brand look like every other brand, which makes your brand ignorable. So we try to do stuff that we think doesn’t look like the other brands in that category, and as a result, stands out more and gets people to look at it: Notice it, remember it, and like it.
RSEO: So…you specialize in advertising that is that non-selling, it has a story, that type of thing?
Tucker: We do believe advertising has to sell, we just don’t think that “hard sell” sells any harder than “soft sell.” Particularly now, when the general public is completely empowered to ignore advertising. There are so many ways to literally ignore and avoid advertising. It’s better be doing work that people actually like to look at, otherwise you’ll never be looked at or remembered. So yeah, we believe wholeheartedly in stories – people respond to them because they’re interesting and emotional. Storytelling is vital for any brand.
RSEO: You guys have actually made ads for yourselves that make fun of the business of online video. You have Buyral, and you have Catvertising, which made Time Magazine’s Top 10 Creative Videos of 2011 from all around the world.
Tucker: Did you see “Pink Ponies: A Case Study”? That’s the one that kind of started it.
It sort of happened by accident. Every year there’s an Agency of the Year night held by the big trade magazine here in Canada, Strategy Magazine. and every agency is asked to do a case study video. What happened with Pink Ponies was rather than talk about a real case study that we did, why don’t we actually pretend that we took something as ridiculous as an 8-year-old’s birthday party, tackle it with the same seriousness and strategic thinking that agencies typically do when they’re talking about how smart they are.
So we did that, and we played it at the night and people really laughed, so we put it online and it just went crazy. It just flew around marketing departments and advertising agencies around the world, which is great. It got us a lot of exposure.
RSEO: What are key ingredients for a good online video campaign?
Tucker: Largely, the really popular videos have humor at the core. Even “Gangnam Style.” The reason that thing has gone crazy is it’s so ridiculous. It’s like, “What…the hell is that?” It’s amazing, I love it, it’s super entertaining, but there’s a silliness to it – t’s like candy, you can’t not eat it. So from our standpoint it has to be entertaining, but there also has to be some truth to it.
RSEO: Any success stories you’d like to share?
Tucker: One in particular is “Rethink Breast Cancer: Your Man Reminder” (which we talked about in a TED report recently):
Another is Zeller’s. Zeller’s is a big mass merchandiser like Wal Mart, and they just got bought by Target about two years ago. They were a client, and we found out that Target was basically going to retire the Zeller’s brand and remaking the Zeller’s stores into Target stores. So basically Zeller’s was going to be out of business in a year and a half. But, despite that, their stores still were open, so we still had to sell a lot of product, but they didn’t nearly have the budgets they did.
We created a social media-only campaign via Facebook, so no mass media at all. And the idea was, because Target was buying their stores, all the Zeller’s management decided to go down to Jamaica. Basically, they would take early retirement, and let consumers literally run the sale. So if you “liked” their Facebook page, you got to vote on what items went on sale, for how much, in what stores. You got to record your own radio commercials that were then played in the store. All through their Facebook page. It was unprecedented I think to allow people to actually control the sale through Facebook, so that was pretty cool.
It won the Best Social Media Campaign of the year at the Interactive Advertising Bureau Conference in New York City a couple of months ago. We beat Lady Gaga!
RSEO: I saw the “Everything Must Go” ad, where the store basically said, everything must go, including the mascot.
Tucker: That was the follow-up for the Festive Finale, which I just talked about, and happened last year at this time. But right now, the Everything Must Go thing…Zeller’s is now done, literally over. So this is their Everything Must Go sale where we’re getting rid of everything in the stores. And we thought the best way to do that is to say, “We’re getting rid of everything including this fuzzy mascot. So we dumped him in the woods.
You can actually adopt Zeddy. There are over 3,000 applications on their website to adopt Zeddy, and we narrowed it down to three finalists which the Facebook community could vote on, and it was won by Camp Trillium, which helps children who are having treatment for cancer. We actually have a little film on it, that made me cry when I saw it. They’re awesome.
We’d like to thank Angus Tucker for his time. Also we’d like to thank Reagan Johnston at John St. for her help with this interview!