It’s hip to be square
“I think Canada has a really unique footprint in [American advertising],” says Rethink’s Executive Creative Director Mike Dubrick, who is based in Toronto. “We’re close enough to the U.S. to have a fundamental understanding of this market, but we’re different enough to have a unique perspective on it.”
“That’s why Canadian comedians play so well in the States,” he laughs.
Whether either side wants to admit it, Americans and Canadians share more similarities than they have differences, but one critical contrast that has historically been recognized by those north of the 49th parallel is the disparity in professional opportunities.
The prevailing narrative for many Canadians who want to “make it big” in the creative industries has been that moving to New York, London or another famously artistic city is a requirement for success, says Craig Lobban, a creative director at 40-person shop Banfield, which works with clients including the Canadian government’s Health and Public Safety departments.
But in the past decade, and especially since COVID-19 made working remotely the norm, “People are recognizing there are opportunities to do good work anywhere,” he says.
Banfield, the oldest agency in Ottawa, Canada’s capital and sixth-largest city, has a handful of international clients including New Jersey-based telecom company SES and West Coast automation firm Ridecell, but Lobban and agency president Timothy Jones agree that the quality of work they produce trumps any office location.
“I worked with people early in my career, a few of the creative teams got that recognition and went to the States,” Lobban recalls of former colleagues who left the northland for Ogilvy, Mother and other shops in the U.S. “In the past, people probably thought their best opportunities were to go to the States. But there is opportunity to do [good work] here,” he adds. Work such as the shop's campaign for Public Safety Canada, shown below, highlighting human trafficking.