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Canadian Advertising

The Calder Bateman team is marking Canada’s 150th birthday by reflecting on what this country means to them. The third post in our four-part series is written by CB Creative Directors Nicola Pringle and Jon Manning, who sat down to muse over Canadian ads new and old. From childhood nostalgia to what’s flipping the script today, they’re serving up hot takes on Canuckvertising. Also, that’s a portmanteau that should never be used again. Because it’s horrible.

Canadian Ad Heritage

Our top 3 nostalgic ads—And our top 3 recent ads.

Growing up in Canada, we were privy to a unique, pre-Internet media diet that existed nowhere else but here. The ads that punctuated afterschool reruns of WKRP in Cincinnati and Fresh Prince of Bel-Air were lamented at the time, but now hold a special part in our hearts—they remind us ever so slightly of who we were and how we felt back then.

Today the advertising landscape in Canada has changed immensely. Our nation is an unstoppable force on the world’s ad stage (Just look at how well Canada is represented at this year’s Cannes). Let’s have a chitty chitty chat chat about all that.

Ads of Yore

Body Break

Jon: Hal and Joanne taught me about the food pyramid and how to breathe deeply to relieve runner’s cramps.

Nicola: Their charismatic banter made them such a great TV duo. But they’re not in their matching twopiece track suits here! The fitness fashion is actually what I remember most.

Jon: Did you notice that Hal has zero contents in his brief case?

Nicola: No! I was too busy trying the exercise. It’s harder than it looks! Or I’m out of shape. Probably the latter.

Jon: Why bring it? Just leave it behind, Hal. My abs hurt. Next.

It’s Patrick, he took out life insurance

Nicola: I don’t remember this one.

Jon: I can’t forget it. When my brothers and I were little, we’d pick up the phone and pretend to talk to Patrick about his life insurance. Boy, was he a riot. We were bored frequently and often—a rite of passage in itself.

Nicola: … Next

Astar the Robot

Nicola: What on Earth?

Jon: Not Earth, Nicola, Planet Danger. Which—in terms of planets and evolution—is pretty messed up.

Nicola: This reminds me of how much I didn’t pay attention to the sci-fi trend explosion in the 80s.

Jon: This one definitely stuck with me. It’s how I learned that I CAN’T put my arm back on if I go through what appears to be a series of can openers.

Nicola: I’ve only just learned this. Miraculously I’ve kept my arms all these years.

Jon: NEXT!

Nicola: Settle down.

Advertising Today

Okay, now that we’ve taken a trip down memory lane, let’s look at what’s happening in Canadian advertising today. The ads from the past stuck with us more so because of frequency and placement. The ones that stick with us today, however, do so because they’re brilliant and unignorable. Here’s what’s sizzlin’ in our brain skillets.

SickKids VS: Undeniable

Agency: Cossette

Nicola: This is the first one that comes to mind in terms of great Canadian ad work today… It’s also a category we work in often, so immediately I had that “why didn’t we think of that?!” moment. #Jelly

Jon: As a parent, this is hard to watch. But it’s beautiful all the same. They capture the pain and uncertainty that comes with kids being sick, and they push it out with a fierce anthemic spirit.

Nicola: It’s such a different approach for this kind of message, which is why it really stands out. The mood catches you off guard, then the intensity of the music and imagery takes you on a ride. I can’t help but get swept away every time. I had only drooled over it from an advertising perspective so far. Thanks for making me put on my parenting pants, Jon. Now I’m drooling AND worrying.

Jon: I’m just happy you’re wearing pants again. Production wise, this piece is just so brilliant. Every detail adds to the big picture. Great art direction and cutting make a two-minute spot feel like no time at all.

Nicola: Couldn’t agree more. What’s next?

Canadian Tire: We All Play For Canada

Agency: Cleansheet

Jon: Okay, this one is from a few years ago, but it has stuck with me because of the strong insight that few other brands could own. “We all play for Canada” has basically become CT’s tagline. It’s a big idea that, as we say in the “biz”, has got legs.

Nicola: Not only is the insight so strong, the storytelling approach is strategic too. They first remind us of the generation before us, our parents, and then jump to generation to come, our kids. They know the core audience (assuming it’s targeted at 30 somethings with kids) wants to hold up a certain quality of life that was set by our own parents when we were growing up. We now relate that to raising our own kids and the experiences we’re able to provide them with. The idea that we might be giving them less than we had or that they could potentially be missing out on such significant part of childhood is devastating. That may feel like a strong word for this ad, but the concept cuts deep.

Jon: As someone who loves to sit and do nothing, this campaign really made me feel bad about that. In a good way!

Nicola: I bet you’ll take your kid to the park after work today. I know I will.

Jon: #NoPromises. NEXT!

President’s Choice: #EatTogether

Agency: John St.

Jon: I like a good heart warmer. And that’s what this does. Look, GOOSEBUMPS!

Nicola: Okay wait, how does anyone get up to pee?

Jon: Suspend your disbelieve for a moment, will you? I think it’s no secret that in our increasingly “connected” world, people are feeling increasingly disconnected. This ad does a great job of mining that insight to create something that’s delightfully true. I may be a sap, but this is also really smart stuff.

Nicola: Great point. It’s funny—the dominating references to tech use almost passed me by. They’re so every day, I barely thought about it! But by the end of the spot the human connections feel true. We have to give a nod to the set direction, propping and wardrobe choices. Not something most would think about while being wrapped in a metaphorical blanket as we watch, but all are such key contributors to how fuzzy and real it all feels.


Jon: Oh! I almost forgot. You know what we left out?

Nicola and Jon look at each other, pause, then simultaneously say:


Jon: Wow, we’re really in sync. Let’s take a look.

Heritage Minutes: Basketball

Jon: I’m slightly embarrassed to admit, but I think I learned more about Canadian history from Heritage Minutes than I did from social studies classes.

Nicola: Is that because you didn’t pay attention?

Jon: Right you are. But also, they just did such a good job of encapsulating huge historic moments in 60 seconds.

Nicola: I agree. There aren’t too many people that can talk about peach baskets or burnt toast without mentioning these spots at the same time.

Jon: And they’re even making new ones!

Nicola: Look out learning, here we come!

Jon: Learning? More like edutainment. #genius


This is just a smattering of what’s great and memorable about Canadian advertising.

It all serves as inspiration and, truthfully, it’s a thrilling time to be part of such a vibrant national ad community that seems more creative now than ever.

We’ve come a long way from Patrick taking out life insurance. And luckily, we’ve managed to hold onto our heritage at the same time.

Happy nifty 150, Canada!

Read the other posts in our Canada 150 series: A West Indian’s Canada + Canadian Democracy + Canada Has No Class

About the author

Nicola Pringle
Recognized as one of Strategy Magazine’s top 25 Art Directors in Canada, Nicola has garnered many of the industries most sought after national and international awards. Her dogged determination to find the best solution for a client's brand can be attributed to her innovative strategic thinking—or perhaps her competitive spirit honed from years of demolishing opponents on the slow-pitch field.

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