Looking back on 40 years of marketing in Ottawa

Mark Brownlee
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If you’re looking for a lens through which to evaluate just how much Ottawa’s marketing communications scene has changed during the past 40 years, it’s hard to think of a better example than Banfield.

Banfield celebrated its 40th anniversary in November 2013.

Currently operating out of what appears from the street to be an ordinary two-storey house in Hintonburg, the firm has about 40 employees as well as a laundry list of clients from around the world.

This includes international companies including Alcatel-Lucent and organizations such as the National Arts Centre that are closer to home.

To what does the company attribute its longevity?

“Adapting to change and actually leveraging it,” said John Charette, the agency’s vice-president and creative director.

“You have to keep reinventing yourself if you want to succeed,” he added.

The company took some time during its celebrations in mid-November to revisit some of its most memorable campaigns from decades past.

Neighbourhood Watch

Client: Ottawa Police Service

Year: 1979

The campaign: Your home, your community … keep it safe.

The campaign started because the brother of Banfield’s creative director worked at the Ottawa police department, said Nancy Webb, Banfield’s president and director of client services. It went from being a local campaign to later being used nationally and eventually for an international rollout. Today the logo Banfield designed still plays a major role in the program, which aims to help residents prevent crime in their neighbourhoods by fostering a spirit of co-operation between the community and the police.

Context: The initiative came at a time when there was less work available for marketing firms because there weren’t as many private companies in the city. “Ottawa was definitely far less sophisticated and robust in a business sense than it is now,” said Ms. Webb, who joined the firm in the early 1980s.

Significance: It represented a big leap for the company at the time, said Ms. Webb, given there was only about one other agency and two design firms in the city during this time. “A campaign of this nature would have been a really significant thing at that point.”


Client: Irving Tissue

Year: 1988

The campaign: Majesta – Quilted Softness

New Brunswick-based Irving hired the firm to help with the development and launch of its new national brand. “Majesta was to convey a sense of the value, the superiority of the product,” said Ms. Webb. “The things that are very important in the tissue market is softness combined with strength.”

Context: The Majesta campaign took place during an era when most of the work in the area dealt with government-related institutions. Most of the private-sector work, prior to Majesta, went to firms in Toronto. Banfield came up with the name, brand identity and package design for the product at a time when clients were generally the driving force behind a campaign’s design, she said. “The marketing or communications people within clients tended to be quite in control of the message,” she said. “They would give very solid briefs and you would do what was asked.” The Majesta campaign helped change that, she said.

Significance: “To come up with a brand for a consumer product is a really big thing for an agency,” she said. Working with the Irvings also opened new doors in new markets for the company, such as with food producer Cavendish Farms.

Nokia for Business sub-brand launch

Client: Nokia

Year: 1995

The campaign: Nokia – Is Your Network Secure?

Banfield handled the full rollout for the Nokia for Business launch: the messaging, the branding work, the advertising and the media strategy. “We had this amazing opportunity to create a sub-brand and then promote it through a global advertising campaign,” she said.

Context: Technology was booming at the time but many companies were having difficulty finding employees, she said, which is why the agency did many campaigns around recruiting. The firm also began to expand its messaging to the Internet with new initiatives such as banner ads.

Significance: This campaign helped launch Banfield into the burgeoning technology sector, said Ms. Webb. The sector was booming at the time and many firms asked the agency to double its size so it could accommodate the work.

Iridium Everywhere

Client: Iridium

Year: 2007

The campaign: Reliable.Critical.Lifelines

There was a time in the 1990s when Iridium’s satellite phone was the pinnacle in mobile communications, remembers Ms. Webb. By the time Banfield got involved, however, the cellphone had taken over in importance. Banfield decided to play up the fact that Iridium, unlike cellphones, worked anywhere across the globe.

Context: By 2007, Iridium had recovered from some lean years to once again become a successful company, said Ms. Webb. The problem Banfield had to confront was that most people thought the satellite technology firm had gone bankrupt. “Our job was to come up with a brand-repositioning campaign to dispel that myth,” she said. Banfield responded by creating a campaign that started with an internal launch designed to excite staff and partners. After that the agency set about advertising to industry members with trade show displays, videos, website development and print advertising.

Significance: “It’s become a very large backbone client for the company and it’s also brought us into a lot of other areas with their partners or people who have been associated with their company that’s moved us into a number of other companies throughout the U.S. and the world,” said Ms. Webb.

Organizations: Alcatel-Lucent, National Arts Centre, Nokia

Geographic location: Ottawa, Toronto, U.S.

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