Zig's New Zag

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Six years to the month since its launch, Toronto agency Zig is already in the driver's seat for one of Canada's premier ad clients-Molson-and, with an unusual joint venture with designer Bruce Mau, has put itself in the running for another. Andy Macauley, Elspeth Lynn and Lorraine Tao founded Zig with the intention of forming a creatively driven shop free of the internal politics prevalent at the network agencies where they began their careers. And while last fall they partnered with a holding company, that holding company was MDC, the low-key backer that also has stakes in Crispin Porter + Bogusky.

"We still own the majority of the company," says Lynn. "MDC's goal is to combine with A-level companies and let them do their own thing. Some holding companies want to buy smaller creative shops and change them for their own benefit, but MDC is about promoting and letting us continue doing what we do."

One fruit of the MDC link is the impending launch of a new hybrid agency-design shop with Toronto-based design star Bruce Mau, whose company was partially acquired by MDC last year. "It's a separate venture from Zig, a joint venture between us and Bruce Mau, and it's being created to go after the Rogers business," says Lynn. Details about the workings of the new partnership aren't forthcoming, but if they win the vast Rogers telecom business, the 55-person Zig will, with Molson already on board, be guiding the marketing fortunes of two of Canada's best-known brands.

Since winning the Molson account in late 2004, Zig has steered the iconic Canadian brewer's advertising away from the patriotic "I Am Canadian" message toward a new campaign concentrating on beer as social lubricant. "Moments," the campaign's flagship spot, is shot from a first-person perspective, complete with a barrage of eager beer buddy archetypes bombarding the participant observer/viewer with suggestive, anticipation-building schemes. Equally prominent are the prerequisite array of attractive females, appearing in the gym or adjacent airplane seat, their seductive greetings pregnant with the promise of sweet beer-fueled loving ("I'm so mad at my boyfriend" says one sexy barbecue attendee.) Sewn together with the line "It starts here," the spot was directed by Australian Nicholas Reynolds through Radke Films.

"The very first meeting we had with Molson, they told us, 'We want to get the beer drinker feeling something again," says Lynn. "Because they were so focused on looking for a big idea, as soon as they saw the line, they were pretty convinced." Tao adds: "This campaign is not about humor, it's about inspiring people to go out. We're going back to what works for beer. If you look at Molson's historical reel, their most successful campaigns make you want to be the guy or the girl in the ad, or you want to experience what they're experiencing."

Eschewing the comedy nuggets so frequently employed to move the suds ("Bud Light does the comedy thing so well, we didn't want to go near that or feel like Bud Light's not so funny brother" jokes Lynn), several of Zig's teams got down to business. Ultimately it was art director Stephen Leps and copywriter Aaron Starkman who came up with "Moments." The creatives reference the party-cam POV of Jonas Akerlund's famously banned Prodigy video, "Smack My Bitch Up," as a device to draw the viewer into the anticipatory experience the ad seeks to create. "We went with the point-of-view approach because sometimes when you just show someone having a good time, the bullshit meter goes way up," says Leps.

The team, recently promoted to associate creative directors, were already rising stars at Zig following the success of the "Prison Visitor" spot they created for Vim (frames seen at top). The spot shows a mom separated from her daughter by what appears to be a prison visiting room barrier; the reveal hits us with the fact that she is actually trapped scouring her bathub. The convincing execution, by Reginald Pike's Perlorian Brothers, coupled with the line "Spend less time cleaning" won the spot and Unilever a Gold Lion at Cannes in 2004 and has been nominated for both One Show and D&AD honors. "Prison Visitor" has since been rolled out in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

"It worked because people are fed up with ads showing people singing and dancing while cleaning," says Starkman. "We heard it over and over again in research-if you're singing and dancing while you're cleaning, you've got major psychological issues. So we started thinking of ways to show how cleaning is a horrible thing."

Leps and Starkman are now deep into more Vim work (including package design) at the same time that they're applying their young male insight to Molson. But does the primal and decidedly male-targeted fusion of alcohol, good times and chasing woman depicted in "Moments" run contrary to the female-forward tone alluded to in so many spots spawned at Zig (such as the "Cam Breast Exam" breast cancer PSA that first planted the agency's creative flag)? "Our philosophy is women are participants and not props in these beer ads.," says Lynn. "We didn't want the big, blonde, large-breasted woman dancing around. We wanted to depict women who could go up and talk to guys and be totally in control. They're participants, not objects."


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