Ad agency John St. goes rogue with fake ads

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A scene from Toronto agency John St.’s latest spoof Buyral. (Photo: John St.)

“The viral video. Millions of views. Millions in sales. What’s their secret? What made them go viral? We did.”

A new online ad from Canadian marketing firm Buyral says it can make any online ad go viral using its unique click technology. “Once we bypassed the viewing process, our world opened up. Anywhere there is a button we can collect clicks. Elevators, pin pads, whack-a-mole,” it promises. “One day we won’t need the viewer.”

The ad was posted to YouTube on Nov. 2, and in less than two weeks had more than 620,000 views, a viral hit by any measure. And it’s completely fake.

For the third year in a row, Toronto ad agency John St., whose clients include Wiser’s whisky, Maple Leaf Foods and ING Direct, has turned heads worldwide with a satirical take on the ad business. What was originally meant as a fun project for a Canadian industry awards show has turned into self-promotional gold, with coverage from Time magazine, the Los Angeles Times and countless culture blogs.

In 2010, the agency created “Pink Ponies: A Case Study,” that applied marketing smarts to planning a little girl’s birthday party. The video attracted more than 340,000 viewers. Last year’s “Catvertising,” where the agency declared cat videos the future of advertising, has racked up more than 1.9 million views.

For brands, that kind of traffic would translate into sales or consumer attention, but what does it get an ad agency? John St. president Arthur Fleischmann says they’ve turned into a pretty powerful promotional tool. YouTube is littered with cringe-worthy corporate videos of abominably lip-synched pop songs and other unfunny atrocities. The John St. efforts manage to show off the firm’s strengths while still being entertaining to a broad audience. “It’s not meant to be some sort of credential presentation,” says Fleischmann. “But it does show what kind of agency we are, how we look at things and what our personality is like.”

Anthony Kalamut, program chair of creative advertising at Seneca College, says these videos have definitely burnished John St.’s reputation, among both clients and prospective employees. “If this is how deep they go for themselves, imagine what they’ll do for you as a client if you let them?” says Kalamut. “If you can promote yourself effectively, you’re definitely going to attract clients that see the world in a similar way.”

John St. is cagey about the videos’ cost, saying only that it used employees for the cast and called in favours from production partners. Fleischmann says the company has been called in to a few pitches thanks to these videos, and even worked with Diageo on a project that arose directly from a phone call about “Catvertising.”

“At the very least, it’s a great ice-breaker with prospective clients,” he says. “When working on getting new business, we obviously put a more serious face forward, showing our capabilities and the kinds of things we do, but inevitably the topic of Buyral or Catvertising comes up.”

One comment on “Ad agency John St. goes rogue with fake ads

  1. Great for the company and great for the ad industry in Toronto. Job well done!

    Reply

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