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Shane Ogilvie on the Canadian Creative Revolution



The co-founder and CCO of The Garden speaks to LBB’s Addison Capper about an explosion of indie agencies and Canadian music, TV, film and art being recognised internationally more than ever

Shane Ogilvie on the Canadian Creative Revolution
"Great creative has no boundaries. The best work can come from anywhere. Meet some of Canada’s best creative thinkers. The work is world class and consistent."

Canadian production company FRANK Content is a proud supporter of Little Black Book as its partner for the Canadian market. As part of the relationship, LBB is sitting down for a chat with the brightest and best minds from across Canada's advertising industry. Up today is Shane Ogilvie, co-founder and CCO of The Garden. He chats to LBB’s Addison Capper about a Canadian creative revolution, issues with ad industry awards and the time he left adland to open a restaurant - and hated it.

LBB> You mentioned to me before that you feel like there's a bit of a creative revolution going on in Canada. Can you expand on that and explain what's made you think that way?

Shane> In the last few years, there has been an explosion of small, creatively led, indie shops that have opened here. Super talented creatives and strategists are leaving the agency networks to hang a shingle. It’s creating an energy in our industry that I haven’t felt in many years and it’s definitely showing in the work. 

This might just be wishful thinking, but it also feels like marketers here in Canada have begun to rediscover the importance of connecting with their customers in a meaningful way and with that, it seems as though there’s been a rise in asks around more brand-centric and emotionally driven work. 

LBB> What's your general view on the Canadian industry and local creativity? 

Shane> Canada is a hotbed of creativity. In the last few years, things here just seem to be exploding. Our work is being celebrated internationally at levels and in numbers we’ve not seen in the past, which is very exciting and seems to be growing in its momentum. And it’s not just limited to advertising – Canadians are being celebrated for their music, television shows, films and art in a way we’ve not seen in the past. In my opinion it’s a very exciting time to be a creative person in this country. 

LBB> The Garden has been busy of late! What's been keeping you so busy? And how have you found the challenge of taking on new work during such a trying period? 

Shane> We’ve been really fortunate to have stayed busy throughout last year and into 2021. I know that hasn’t been the case for a lot of agencies, so we’re very grateful to find ourselves where we are. In the last couple of months alone, we’ve been working on everything from repositioning and rebranding an iconic restaurant chain to launching a first of its kind credit product for a national bank. 

One of the more exciting projects was the recent global launch of Fit Track, a smart scale that measures 17 different metrics within the body beyond weight. The campaign is very body positive and pushes back against many of the lies the fitness industry has been telling us around the importance of weight when it comes to our health. So far, the campaign has launched in the US, UK, France and Germany and has been showing amazing results across the board. This is exactly the kind of work we love to do – work that means something to people and helps to leave the world a little better than we found it. 

We’re feeling very lucky at the moment. 

LBB> You also took on your first ever interns recently. Tell us about that.

Shane> The Garden had never taken on interns prior to 2020. We’re a small shop that does a lot of heavy lifting, and to pull that off you need senior talent focused on solving client problems. However, once the pandemic hit, many in our industry were finding themselves in a tough spot, and we wanted to find a way to help. Someone in the agency had an idea about helping students who were graduating at the time, so it started with offering up portfolio reviews, but we were so blown away by some of the books that we ended up offering a few of them paid internships. We weren’t sure how it was all going to go over Zoom, since so much of an internship is about observing and absorbing, but it seemed to work out and in the end we hired three of them to stay on full time. It’s been a great experience for all of us and we’re looking forward to doing it again. 

LBB> Tell me a bit about the formation of The Garden. What inspired you to launch your own agency and what was your main vision when you did so?

Shane> My business partner, Shari Walczak and I launched The Garden with the founding belief that when it comes to growing brand love, it’s not only about the impressions you buy, it’s about the impression you make. And making a great impression means thinking beyond what brands say and considering how they behave. That required a new process and approach. One that applied creative and strategic thinking further upstream and more broadly across the business. It also meant bringing the client in sooner and being more holistic with how we solved their problems through the lens of building stronger, more emotionally connected relationships with their customers. We’re now six years in and our process feels more relevant than ever. We couldn’t imagine ever going back to working the way we did before.

LBB> You don't enter any awards - why is that? 

Shane> It comes down to trust. When we’re pushing a client towards buying a piece of work, they know we have their best interests at heart, not our own. There are no hidden motives or agendas. Everyone in the room is working towards the exact same goal. Plus, when work is created in the spirit of solving the client’s problem, the solution naturally tends to make more sense against that problem - which makes it infinitely easier to buy, even when it’s scary.

A common misconception I hear is that because we don’t enter award shows, we must not care about doing great work. Nothing frustrates me more. In fact, I feel like it puts more pressure on us to be great, because without a trophy case full of awards to lean on, our work needs to stand on its own. That’s why we strive for headlines instead of awards – I want The New York Times celebrating our work.

LBB> Is there a piece of work from The Garden that really taps into that thought - work that The New York Times would be celebrating?

Shane> Yeah – like I said, awards are great, but if you get a trophy for a piece of work that nobody saw or noticed, then you really haven’t done your job. We challenge our teams to make headlines with their work, become part of popular culture or at the very least get the work talked about outside of the industry. Over the years we’ve had quite a few campaigns be successful in that regard, last year we did an out-of-home board for WOWTech, a sexual health and wellness company, that got picked up by mainstream media around the world. That’s a big deal, because for the cost of a single billboard, we were able to help our client garner worldwide attention for their product. It just goes to show the power of a great idea. It’s also what we should all be striving for in our work, but sadly a good bulk of the stuff that gets awarded just never achieves that.

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LBB> How about Canadian work that wasn't by The Garden - is there a piece of work from the past year or so that you were particularly jealous of? 

Shane> I pretty much love anything that comes out of Rethink. Such a powerhouse of talent over there. Their work on Heinz is fun and their ‘Our Little World’ stuff for Ikea is just stunning. I’m also a fan of what BHLA has been doing with the Kruger family of brands. Some really innovative stuff for a category that’s just been so stale for decades. I love what John St. has done for No Frills, it was a masterclass in brand transformation that took a Canadian discount grocery chain and turned it into somewhat of a cult favourite amongst the younger urban demographic. I’m sure I’m forgetting some, but like I said, some truly amazing work is being done here in Canada right now. 

LBB> How did you wind up in this industry in the first place? Was it somewhat of a plan or more a happy accident?

Shane> Definitely a happy accident. I had what some might call a misspent youth and by the time I found myself in my 20s, I was lacking in direction and really had no idea what I was going to do with my life. Thankfully I had some family who was looking out for me. One of my uncles happened to work at an out-of-home media company and invited me down to his office one day so we could grab lunch and have a ‘chat’ about what I was doing with my life. While there, I met an art director who was checking proofs and we got to talking about what he did for a living and what it was like to work in an agency and I thought to myself “that’s what I want to do”. I went home that night and started researching the industry and it just kind of went from there. Here I am, over 20 years later, still loving what I do and feeling super grateful for having showed up for that lunch and finding my way into the business.

LBB> What keeps you busy when you're not working? Do you have any weird quirks of hobbies to tell us about?

Shane> I love food and I love music. So, a lot of my time outside of work is spent either eating, cooking or thinking about what I’d like to eat or cook, all while listening to music. In fact, I love cooking and experimenting with food so much that a few years ago I took a break from the ad world to open a small restaurant. While I managed to find success and some creative fulfilment from it, I actually hated it. I now have a whole other level of respect for people who work in kitchens and was actually pretty humbled by the whole experience. I’m now content with tinkering in my home kitchen and forcing all of my creations on friends and family. 

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Frank Content, Mon, 12 Jul 2021 14:52:29 GMT