Who recalls the disastrous, now-deleted tweet that beer maker Pabst Blue Ribbon put out at the beginning of the year to commemorate Dry January? It was the type of crass, low-hanging fruit you might expect from, well, a beer company on social media. Months later, most have forgotten the advertising faux-pas, but Saul Colt hasn’t. And while PBR reps were quick to explain away the tweet in question as being written in poor judgment, the founder and creative director at The Idea Integration Co. measures the social media snafu more matter-of-factly.
“That was not something that would happen from professionally funny people. That happens with people who think they’re funny.”
Colt knows a thing or two about professionally funny people. Listed among Canada’s best community builders and experiential marketers, he has staffed his new award-winning boutique marketing and advertising agency full of them.
Spanning professional illustrators, cartoonists, graphic designers, copywriters, and animators, The Idea Integration Co.’s in-house creative lineup is comprised primarily of alumni from MAD Magazine. The Simpsons, and The New Yorker, too, including Dick DeBartolo, Tom Richmond, Ian Boothby, Theresa Burns Parkhurst, and Bill Morrison. Each boasts a long history of deeply comprehending and mercilessly parodying the advertising industry.
“People want interesting stuff. Who better to give them interesting stuff than the people who have held a mirror up to society for years? That’s the purpose of satire,” Colt explains. “It’s to take the truths and make them funny.”
But not all satire is based in humour, he proceeds to point out. Citing David Ogilvy — the modern advertising pioneer who famously declared that you can’t bore people into buying your product, you can only interest them into buying it — Colt again emphasizes the importance of the truth.
“That’s always been the basis of advertising. It’s always been about creating the truths that connect with people, and creating desire out of that.”
Still, Colt is of the opinion that consumers are itching to be wowed. They want to laugh. They want campaigns that stand out from the ever-saturated advertising landscape. He’s not mistaken.
According to data analytics and brand consulting company Kantar, statistics show that even in uncertain times, 75 percent of a brand’s audience is asking for humour in their advertising. An October 2021 survey by HubSpot similarly revealed that 35 percent of audiences remember ads that are funny, versus 8 percent who remember celebrity-driven ads.
The Idea Integration Co. has set out to satisfy this demand by declining to deliver “off the shelf” solutions. To make unknown brands known, and known brands category leaders, the agency specializes in word-of-mouth marketing and branded content creation, as well as stunts that get noticed, shared, and drive revenue.
It has used skywriting to plug a cloud-based service. It has hired individuals to protest the launch of its own client’s product to get the media interested. It did a fashion show for a belt brand where all the models were naked. It built a functioning, life-size version of the board game Operation for a trade show booth. These are just a few examples.
“The goal of great advertising, at least funny advertising, is to make someone laugh and scratch their head, and wonder where that came from,” Colt says. “Some people do it extremely well. We’re doing it a millimetre better.”
Working with giant firms, indie start-ups, and everything in between, The Idea Integration Co. wants to collaborate with brave brands, and brands that want to be brave. Colt actually feels his gang could join forces with quite literally anybody because the intention isn’t to entice clients to meet the agency’s level of risk. Instead, it’s to meet clients just a little further away from their own.
“We have to get brands out of their comfort zone, but we also are the shepherds of the brand. It is about understanding what you can get away with and where the line is — and only crossing [that line] a little bit.”
No, the agency’s brain trust isn’t just “throwing grenades over the wall” and hoping for the best. The Idea Integration Co. realizes it has to originate campaigns that are going to provide clients with the results they’re looking for.
“That’s part of the reason I really love this idea about creating content and ads from people who are not classically trained advertising people,” Colt explains. “Because they’re going to look at things through a very different lens.”
Unfortunately, many brands do resist being edgy in any conceivable way, favouring a conservative but limiting approach. When they do take little left turns, however? It gets noticed.
“When you think of brands like Nike, you can only show athletes being great so often,” Colt says. “So, when they take stands on things and really plant their flag in the sand, which is part of their DNA, that gets remembered. It starts conversations. All advertising is supposed to do is sell things and start conversations. I think that nuance has been lost.”
Despite conceding this, Colt isn’t suggesting that whatever The Idea Integration Co. conceives next will eclipse the efforts of his creative contemporaries. Rather, the agency’s offerings will continue to approach advertising and marketing from a unique, alternative angle.
“It’s not going to be derivative. I believe our work will be more memorable because it’s going to look and feel so much different from everything else. Whether that’s sustainable or whether people follow us in our direction, or go as far in the other direction, only time will tell.”