Creative Commonwealth: Australia and Canada share their insights into creativity across the Commonwealth

With some of the world’s greatest athletes set to descend on Glasgow this month for the Commonwealth Games, what better time to take a look at the creative industries across Commonwealth countries?

Ahead of Wednesday's opening ceremony we'll be sharing insights from creatives from seven member nations to tell us all about the scene where they are, and how their country is a centre for creative marketing excellence.

Today Australia's Simon Langley, executive creative director, JWT Sydney and Canada's Angus Tucker, executive creative director/partner, John St, share their views.

Simon Langley, executive creative director, JWT Sydney

McCann Austraila's much lauded 'Dumb Ways to Die' for Metro Trains

Back in Sydney and nursing a nasty bit of Cannes jetlag, it’s interesting to reflect on the fact that work like Whybin\TBWA’s fabulously irreverent ‘GAYTMs’, McCann’s global hit ‘Dumb Ways to Die’ and our own hauntingly poignant ‘I Touch Myself’ has again over the last couple of years made the world sit up and take notice of this country that refuses to play to the stereotype, run out some local adapts and head down to the beach.

So what’s the secret? Of course, if there was one I wouldn’t tell – but honestly there isn’t. The simple reality is that Australian agencies are as ambitious, hungry, talented, hard-working and hugely competitive as the rest of the world. If there is a difference in how we do it, perhaps it’s in our odd combination of humility and fighting spirit. The Australian way is to reject pretention and agencies here are wary of drinking our own Kool-Aid. We get that the real world can pretty quickly make advertising look boring. That calls for bravery and inventiveness to overcome the prevailing indifference to communications.

That is never easy to do consistently – especially with the increasingly diverse range of skills needed today, across digital, shopper, experiential et al. Agencies are people businesses and as people move (whether agency or client) that influences the ebb and flow in the creative rankings, as teams nail one aspect one year, and just miss it the next. Which keeps it interesting, of course.

JWT Sydney's 'I Touch Myself' campaign

JWT is a case in point – it probably surprised a few people by being the only Australian agency to be awarded a Cannes Lion (silver) in Branded Content and Entertainment, for our ‘I Touch Myself’ campaign, and also inventing an attention-powered car for the RAC in Western Australia as part of a road safety campaign, winning the Mumbrella award for innovation earlier this year.

That said, if I were to single out some Australian agencies for their consistent level of creativity over the last couple of years, I’d pick Havas, McCann Melbourne and Whybin\TBWA. Havas is a great example of an agency that has turned itself around creatively, with well-deserved accolades for ‘The Most Powerful Arm’. McCann has got the world talking with ‘Dumb Ways to Die’, and followed it up this year with the Grand Prix for Effectiveness with ‘Guilt Trips’ for V/ Line. And Whybins just keeps scoring goals all over the place.

I think it’s fair to say that Australian agencies have earned the right to be seen among the best on the world stage – but of course the cream rises to the top and we can’t be complacent. Like every country, there is plenty of work out there that we can’t be proud of as an industry – work that falls foul of the old ‘telling isn’t selling’ adage; work that forgets to entertain or engage. But with global attention comes the pressure to perform and that’s fine by us, I reckon. If there’s one thing Australians love, it’s a bit of competition. Bring it on.

Angus Tucker, executive creative director/partner, John St

I love working in advertising in Canada, I think mostly because we get to fly under the radar here more than other countries do. We’re smaller, so our work isn’t subject to 16 levels of client approvals and the inevitable rounding of the edges that happens when more and more clients have to say yes to a courageous idea.

There is a guerilla quality to creativity here. If you have a great idea and you want to make it, it will get made. We don’t get the biggest budgets, but we do seem to get a longer leash. The entire world has to be ‘Lovin’ it’ when it comes to McDonald’s, but Tribal Toronto did the most jaw-dropping bit of transparent marketing I’ve seen yet with their ‘Our food. Your questions’ campaign for the chain.

And maybe it’s just me, but I can’t imagine someone in Paris approving BBDO Toronto’s 2013 Cannes-winning ‘Social Farting’ campaign. I’m not sure Parisians would even know what farting is.

Ogilvy Toronto’s ‘Evolution’ film for Dove in 2006 was a modest initiative that exploded and launched the purpose-driven marketing phenomenon that has become part of every client’s marketing plan in 2014 (and which seemed to win every second Lion in Cannes this year).

And Grey Toronto put America’s gun worship to shame when the team created a print campaign with pressure group Moms Demand Action that showed the legislative lunacy in the US that deems a Kinder egg to be more dangerous than an assault rifle.

John St's 'exFEARential'

Even our John St films, the most recent of which was ‘exFEARiential’, won a Lion this year despite the fact that it was making fun of the 'prank-vertising' trend that won a bunch of Lions in previous years. It’s an odd thing to be awarded a prize by the very same industry that we’re poking a stick at.

Another thing I love about advertising in Canada is that careers can be launched in an instant. An intern team at Saatchi Toronto was responsible for the best idea this country has had in 2014 with their ‘Surrender Your Say’ idea for the Tourette Syndrome Foundation (it didn’t win at Cannes but it should have). Two of our former interns are now working at AKQA and Goodby in San Francisco. And four other John St juniors are now creative directors of other agencies in Canada.

You don’t need to have ‘assistant creative director’ in your job title to get to work on a good brief in this country. If you’re smart, talented, optimistic (no cynics!) and are driven to be great, you can be great here. Apologies to the US, but Canada is the real land of opportunity.

Check back tomorrow for more Creative Commonwealth insights with thoughts creatives in India, Malaysia and Singapore.

This interview was originally published in the 9 July edition of The Drum magazine, available to buy in The Drum Store.

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