Cats that practically run an ad agency. A guy who’s definitely not a supermodel living on-camera in his underwear for a month. And a bunch of guys who obviously are supermodels demonstrating breast exams ontheir impeccable male pecs.
It’s an unlikely recipe for ad agency success, but one that’s totallyworked for creative content firm John St.
Yet the Toronto company’s crazy-meets-creative approach to marketinghas made it one of several Canadian nominees in this year’s WebbyAwards honouring the best in Web sites, online film and video,interactive advertising, mobile campaigns and apps. Its Catvertisingparody video garnered nods for best copywriting in the interactiveadvertising category and best branded entertainment in the online filmand video category.
It’s no shocker that the Catvertising video is up for two awards. Thepiece – which features real John St. staffers pretending their agencyhas been rebranded to produce nothing but cat videos – has racked upover 1.6 million YouTube views. And John St. didn’teven produce it fora client. It made the spoof to promote itself but also to makefunof more than one cliché: how seriously ad agencies take themselves, howvideo shoots are more complicated than brain surgery, and how any videofeaturing cats instantly becomes a viral sensation.
“I think (it’s so popular) partly because we’re making fun of ourselves– and using cats to make fun of ourselves,” says John St. partner andco-creative director Stephen Jurisic, shivering over the phone from theshelter of a garage during an outdoor client video shoot on a grey,rainy day.
Jurisic is being a little tongue-in-cheek about the cats. But John St.has made waves in the marketing world by taking people’sexpectations and poking a big stick at those expectations to grabattention. The Catvertising video features an ad agency making fun ofitself and its industry; last year’s Guy At Home in His Underwearsocial media campaign for Stanfield’s took a guy with a regular bodyinstead of a male model and put him on-camera in skivvies for 30 days;andits Your Man Reminder video (alsonominated for a Webby as best how-toor DIY content in the online film or video division) shows men, notwomen, demonstrating breast exams to promote a breast cancer awarenessapp. The latter video has 2.3 million YouTube views.
“We have this philosophy of being ‘unignorable’,” Jurisic says.“There’s so much normal stuff out there and if we just take an earnestapproach it might not get noticed and just sit flat. As long as we’resmart and talking to people in a smart way… instead of doing just an ador just one message, we have something people can engage and have funwith.”
Consumer engagement is something John St. incorporates into all of its campaigns, especially through social media, because, as Jurisic notes, the degree of interactivity the Web has allowed between content creators and their audience has been the biggest game changer in marketing over the past few years.
“It’s about being always ‘on’ versus shooting out messages and hopingthey stick. Now it’s (about) trying to create a conversation. Becausethe consumer’s more in control you have to be more transparent, able toreact quicker, and everything’s faster, which is challenging but it’salso the world we’re in,” Jurisic says.
John St. has some good Canadian company in this year’sWebby nominations. Other homegrown nominees include perennial rebelsVice Media as well as Hootsuite, BBDO Toronto, the Globeand Mail andthe National Film Board of Canada. (Here’s the complete nominee list.)
Webby winners will be announced Tuesday and honoured at a ceremony inNew York on May 21. Though John St. has been nominated for Webbysbefore and not won, getting recognized by the event (whose pastwinners include Google, Amazon, and Craigslist whenthose firms were still in theirinfancy) does carry some cache in Web-based industries, Jurisic says.
“In Canada it’s interesting how it’s perceived. It’s one of thepremiere (Web awards),” he says.
John St. doesn’t plan to send anyone to attend the 2012 Webbys,but its nominated campaigns this year have already won overmillions of YouTube viewers, countless cat fanciers and even some newadvertising clients. Though he won’t name specificcompanies, Jurisic says “two or three” new clients have broughtbusiness to John St. specifically because of the Catvertising bit.
The video seemed so realistic for some viewers that not everyonerealized it was a spoof, however.
“After it started to spread on the Web we started to get resumes fromcat whisperers and cat trainers who didn’t get the joke,” Jurisic says.
John St. used a real cat wrangler during the making of the Catvertisingvideo but isn’t currently on the hunt to hire more cat-centricprofessionals, he says. Meow, indeed.