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Mark Mason moved from his native South Africa to Canada 18 years ago in search of bigger clients, bigger budgets, top-tier directors, and, he jokes, “a faster internet connection”. Back then, Mark admits that the Canadian advertising industry was still trying to define itself and make its mark on the world stage. Such is obviously not the case today, something that Mark says now as a proud Canadian citizen.
He’s just taken the reins as executive creative director at Grey Canada and its sister agency Tank Worldwide, which you may have seen in the press recently for a campaign that imagined Toronto under attack to drive awareness towards and donations for the war in Ukraine. Grey Canada has been “quiet” of late according to Mark, something that he is eager to change.
LBB’s Addison Capper chatted with Mark to find out more about his plans and ambitions for Grey Canada and Tank Worldwide, why he hopes Canadians aren’t changing, and how he fuels his thirst for history outside of work.
LBB> You took the creative reins at Grey Canada about four months ago - congrats! What kind of task was in front of you when you started? And how has the experience been so far?
Mark> Thanks, it’s been a busy four months! As ECD of Grey Canada and with consumer-facing work at sister agency Tank Worldwide, I have been tasked with building creative momentum. Grey Canada has been quiet recently, and I intend to get the agency making noise again, getting noticed. I’ll be injecting some ‘let’s make sh!t happen’ energy to deliver on noteworthy work. The hiring of awesome, talented people will help tremendously too.
LBB> You've worked freelance quite a bit in recent years - what tempted you back into an agency full time? What are the pros and cons of each set up for you?
Mark> Freelance is great, it allows you to, in short stints, work on a variety of different clients and meet a range of talented people. There certainly are a few drawbacks though, one being continuity, having the ability to build a relationship with a client, and solidifying a sort of creative trust between you and your client. I missed building these partnerships. I also missed being part of something bigger, call it culture if you must.
LBB> You worked for 11 years in South Africa before taking the leap to the Canadian market in 2004. How did that come about? What were your first impressions of the Canadian advertising industry?
Mark> I needed to move for career growth, I wanted access to bigger clients, bigger budgets, top-tier directors… and a faster internet connection! So looking abroad, I found Canada would offer me those while still allowing, and this’ll sound corny, a pioneering spirit.
The Canadian ad industry, thinking back to then, was still trying to define itself and get recognised on the global stage, and so I was eager to play part in the move towards unexpected, bigger, and smarter thinking.
LBB> And what are your impressions of the industry now? How has the Canadian market changed since you started?
Mark> The industry has never been stronger. Over the past few years, we’ve seen multiple Cannes Lions Grand Prix winners. Canadian talent is being poached by agencies down south. There is now the implementation of ‘borderless’ where Canadian agencies are servicing US and global clients.
LBB> My colleague recently spoke with a director who worked on a Team Canada Olympics spot. They said that the concept of what it means to be Canadian is undergoing a lot of change and updating. As a South African that has worked and lived (I think) in Canada for quite some time, what are your thoughts on that?
Mark> Yes, I’m South African, born and bred, however I am also a Canadian citizen and darn proud of it too! I don’t believe Canadians are changing, at least I hope we aren’t. What drew me towards Canada 18 years ago were the very people, their values and their space for empathy and understanding. Their respect, tolerance, and acceptance for each other. I could go on and on. Canadians are great, they don’t need to change!
LBB> When it comes to hiring new talent, does most of that come from Canada? Are there a lot of people from abroad looking to come to the market?
Mark> While most of the talent is homegrown, creativity is a global language and there is no shortage of talented people eager to join the Canadian market, which is great. I do think looking abroad helps bring a freshness to the industry. By injecting it with different cultural experiences and backgrounds, it adds unique perspectives to the work created and avoids creating an echo chamber.
LBB> Is there a piece of work from your time at Grey that really sticks out as being particularly important, or that you're particularly proud of?
As an industry, we have a voice and a public platform, and therefore also an obligation to craft powerfully effective messages for good that can have a direct impact on human lives. Grey Canada recently partnered with Tank Worldwide. Two weeks ago, we launched a multimedia campaign
to raise funds for Ukraine’s humanitarian and refugee efforts through Razom. The work is built on a quote from Ukrainian president Zelenskyy’s address to the Canadian parliament: “Feel this: what we feel every day.” It brings the reality of what is happening in Ukraine to the Canadian doorstep. Visit feelwhatwefeel.com
to experience it. Better still, while you’re there, consider donating to the initiative. (You can also read more about how it came to be here.
LBB> What's one piece of Canadian work maybe from the last year that you didn't make, but you're kind of jealous of?
Mark> Instead of recognising one piece of work I’d like to acknowledge several pieces created for the same client, Heinz. Starting with ‘Pour Perfectly
’, ‘Draw Ketchup
’, ‘Slow Webpage
’ and ‘Ketchup Puzzle
’... I look forward to seeing the next Heinz creative that has me muttering ‘I wish I’d done that!’.
LBB> What keeps you happy, relaxed, sane when you're not working?
Mark> I geek out. I collect stamps, claiming they’re rich in design and history. I further fuel my thirst for history through metal detecting. And given these two hobbies, I spend the rest of the time convincing my wife and son that I’m cool.