Zulu Alpha Kilo’s Zak Mroueh and ADCC’s Andrew Simon speak to Addison Capper about getting the likes of Droga, Bogusky, DeCourcy and Kolbusz involved to help raise needed money for the 72-year-old non-profit organisation
The ADCC (Advertising & Design Club of Canada) is a non-profit organisation that has championed the next generation of Canadian creative talent for the past 72 years. It's seen a few things in its time but nothing quite like 2020. As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, they heavily relied on funding that supports the ADCC and future generations of creative talent had all but disappeared.
When reality set in that this year could possibly be the last for the ADCC, Michelle Ovcaric, executive director of the club, reached out to Toronto creative agency Zulu Alpha Kilo to rally the Canadian advertising and design community together to raise funds and keep the club alive. The question then became, how can this be done in a relevant and unconventional manner in the age of virtual gatherings? The answer? A webathon. A digital version of an old school, '70s style telethon.
And they pulled it off. On July 10th-11th the ADCC and Zulu Alpha Kilo broadcast for 24 hours straight with a mix of live and curated content featuring an absolute plethora of big names from the advertising and design community, who had all given their time for free.
It was all done in the style of an old-fashioned telethon, complete with impassioned pleas to save the organisation. Even the likes of David Droga and Alex Bogusky stepped in with provocative pleas. Both ad legends sat down for a rare, never-before-seen, intimate discussion with Zulu Alpha Kilo's CCO and founder Zak Mroueh to talk about everything from what it takes to do the best work in the world to their thoughts on vegetables - even the latter topic was captivating. It’s the only time Alex and David have ever done a talk together in history.
Edelman's Global CCO Judy John moderated a panel on why the world needs more Canadian creativity, featuring two expat Canadians: Wieden+Kennedy's Colleen DeCourcy and Droga5 London’s David Kolbusz. Six copywriters from all over North America participated in a timed writing battle. Panels voted on the top 10 Canadian ads of all time. A legendary Canadian panel discussed the past, present and future of the industry. Panels debated pro-bono vs. paid work and where our collective creative efforts should be focused. There was a live Q&A with Cossette’s global CCO, Peter Ignazi, over Cheerios. Director X got candid about his creative process. A creative auction was held where a mug went for $1000. And Andrew Simon, ADCC president, read the annual to his daughters, his guinea pig Tulip, and fell asleep on air.
And it worked! The $70,000+CAD needed to keep the ADCC alive were raised. To find out more about this wholly positive feat of effort and generosity, LBB's Addison Capper spoke with Andrew Simon, president of the ADCC, and Zak Mroueh, founder a chief creative officer of Zulu Alpha Kilo.
LBB> For starters, can you explain the importance of the ADCC to both you and the industry in Canada as a whole?
Zak> As a young creative, the first industry event I ever attended was through the ADCC, Canada’s oldest ad and design club. This non-profit organisation has been around for 72 years. It has a special place in all our hearts. For many creatives in Canada, the ADCCs are their first exposure to the excitement and thrill of the industry. It’s an incredible organisation that has supported up and coming young talent for decades. It was our turn to support them.
LBB> What is the starting point of this project? When did it first become apparent that the ADCC was in trouble?
Zak> As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, the heavily relied upon funding that supports future generations of creative talent had all but disappeared. When reality set in that this year could possibly be the last for the ADCC, Michelle Ovcaric (executive director) and Andrew Simon (ADCC president) reached out to me and asked if Zulu could help save the ADCC.
Andrew> The ADCC, a non-profit organisation, has always been in strong financial standing. As Covid-19 became a reality, we made the difficult decision to cancel the 2019 ADCC Awards show out of sensitivity for the economic hardships that the industry was facing. We did this with full knowledge that as a non-profit that relied on the associated revenue from the show, we would be faced with a significant financial shortfall.
LBB> Why did you approach Zulu Alpha Kilo as the agency to help?
Andrew> We developed a plan to address the financial shortfall. An important part of that was to create a ‘Save the ADCC’ creative campaign. We reached out to Zulu because they are a world-class creative agency with strong advertising and design chops and they’ve been a great supporter of the club in the past.
LBB> What were the next points from there? What kind of ideas were you juggling early on?
Zak> I reviewed many, many concepts with our team. Many were typical and expected advertising ideas. Some played off award-winning iconic ads and design pieces from ADDC’s 72-year history. One campaign highlighted the first ADCC award wins of people’s careers and played off the notion ‘you never forget your first’. While these concepts were insightful and historical, there’s no way they’d result in people opening up their wallets. We needed something that had an element of community and fund-raising. We did end up using many of these ideas in our promotional materials.
LBB> Why a webathon? What inspired that idea?
Zak> One of our teams showed a reel of ‘70s telethons and proposed the notion of a webathon. I loved it right away and directed all the teams to create ideas under this umbrella. Everyone contributed fun, irreverent engaging ideas that would keep the ad and design community engaged and entertained throughout 24 hours. Since the pandemic started, not only have agencies been apart but the entire industry hasn’t collectively gathered for nearly half a year. By hosting a 24-hour webathon, we believed it could bring our country’s industry together, if done right. We packaged all the ideas under this one platform. It was the only idea we presented to Andrew and Michelle and they approved it on the spot. They were brave, supportive and great to work with.
LBB> Once you'd landed on that idea, you needed to come up with 24 hours of content. What was that process like? What were your main aims with regards to the type of content?
Zak> After we sold the idea, yes, admittedly there was a moment of panic. How the hell could we pull it off in 24 hours? At one point, someone suggested that we maybe only produce 12 hours, but we knew we needed to go for the full 24 hours. It was definitely painful, hard and stressful for everyone, but we all got tingles as the content started to play and the love started pouring in across the industry. Some individuals donated as many as three times.
LBB> There are so many people involved in this - representatives of all corners of Canada's ad industry, as well as people from further afield. How did you get everyone involved?
Zak> We simply asked. Very few turned us down. I was moved by the generosity of many of the global leaders.
(Note to reader! Check out the 'Bogusky & Droga video: On Saying No' section. It's discussed at the 51:47 sec mark.)
LBB> The whole thing seems like a bit of a production feat - how did you ensure that everything came together logistically?
Zak> It was definitely a logistical exercise and production feat. Fortunately, we have Zulubot, our internal production and editing arm that played a huge role. It took lots of planning and very little sleep to pull it off.
LBB> What are your favourite moments from the 24 hours? Did you make it through the whole thing without a snooze?
Zak> Too many to mention. But watching the whole community come together was very special. That said, it was pretty funny to watch Andrew read the annual to his daughters, his guinea pig Tulip, and fall asleep on air. My personal highlight was spending two hours with Alex and David. It was captivating to hear two legends who’ve helped shape the industry as we know it, share their secrets on getting to great work and growing great vegetables.
LBB> You got to interview two legends in David Droga and Alex Bogusky - how was that? And what's the biggest snippet of wisdom that you took out of that chat?
Zak> It was fantastic to hear two guys who helped shape modern advertising catch up and talk about both their journeys. They had only ever met a few times before and you could sense a mutual admiration and respect for each other. The biggest challenge was how to edit two hours of amazing content into one hour. One pearl of wisdom stuck out. As both Alex and David mentioned, as you’re approving work or creating it, ask yourself “why would anyone give a shit?” Because along the way, things may get watered down and if you don’t keep asking yourself that question, what could be left is the final word in that sentence.
LBB> And Andrew, you ended up reading a bedtime story as part of the show! How was that?
Andrew> Perhaps the most challenging part of this whole experience was convincing my eight- and 11-year-old to put on onesies and let me read one of our award annuals to them in bed. Talk about a tough audience. At one point I was showing them a Gold winner and my daughter said, “Merit at best”.
LBB> When it came to viewers and donations, who were you mainly aiming this at? And how did you drum up awareness outside of getting people to participate in the event?
Zak> Our industry is generous. And we all shared the common goal to keep the ADCC from closing their doors for good. We aimed the message at everyone from veterans of the industry to the younger ad and design generation to all do their part and give what they could. We created a social media campaign that promoted the event in the weeks leading up to it.
LBB> I feel like an event like this would struggle to happen in most markets outside of Canada - what are your thoughts on that with regards to the community of the Canadian ad industry?
Zak> We are a smaller market than others out there, and so I guess our paths do cross more often as people move agencies, meet at functions, conferences, award shows, etc. That gives us an advantage of getting to know more people and creating healthy community ties. And although we’re all very competitive, at our core, I guess it’s true, Canadians are basically nice.
Andrew> I think you’re absolutely right. I cannot express in words how special our Canadian creative community is. Yes, Canadians are naturally nice people but it goes beyond that. The ADCC has inspired and celebrated our country’s greatest talents over our 72 years of existence and it’s incredibly heart-warming to see so many of these folks, newbies and veterans, return the favour.
LBB> On top of raising money for the ADCC, this also presented a pretty unique opportunity for a big get together at a time when such a thing isn't really possible. What are your thoughts on that?
Zak> We’ve all missed the interaction with our peers during the pandemic and this once-in-a-lifetime event literally brought our local and global industry together. It hit the right note at the right time. Over the past few days, we’ve all received dozens of emails and texts from people across the industry. Everyone loved coming together. Who knows, we might make this an annual event.
Andrew> With challenges come opportunities. Ever since the pandemic started, we’ve looked for new and innovative ways to continue to raise the bar of creativity. An example of that is our Zoom series ‘In Conversation with…’ in which I pick the brain of a different creative leader each week. It’s generated a sizable audience on a consistent basis. Working virtually has opted up new possibilities and as nutty as it sounds to pull off a 24-hour webathon with top talent from around the world, forced isolation made it possible.
LBB> When you hit the donation target, what was going through your mind? How did you feel?
Zak> After the first few hours, I was thinking we weren’t going to make it. Only a few people had donated. But as the hours progressed, we all made powerful pleas to get people off their wallet. I was humbled, thankful and so proud to be a part of a moment in ADCC history, and the Canadian industry’s history – when we all came together. We all needed this, especially after the last four months.