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There Is One Ad Agency in the World That Knows How to Promote Itself

Good job for once, ad guys.

The purpose of an advertising agency's existence is to advertise things. You would think, then, that they would be great at advertising their own services. That is not the case. In fact, ad agencies, even the so-called “creative” ones, are nearly, universally terrible at it. Not just not good – terrible.

They do things like create insipid videos that make you wonder why the place is still in business, or create ads that are pathetically derivative or pointless or laughable or worse – look like they were created by a 10-year-old boy. But, if you really want to show potential clients how edgy you are, you make your employees pose nude in space helmets, and without a whiff of irony call it “The Creative Influence”.


The above ads and ideas were all hatched by big or “hot” shops. Which is just sad. However, there is one agency that seems to have at least a clue: john st. in Toronto.

For several years now, john st. has released videos that perfectly mock a current advertising trend. Mocking advertising trends is like bashing a dead horse in the face. But doing it memorably and originally and as an insider is another thing.

The ad trick that more and more agencies are doing for clients these days has been dubbed “experiential” advertising, aka, SHOCKvertising, STUNTvertising, PRANKvertising. It’s hot because it gets companies “eyeballs”.

Here’s a recent example of it for the Colin Farrell thriller Dead Man Down, created by New York City agency Thinkmodo (tagline: “BE CREATIVE. BE ENGAGING. GO VIRAL.”). Thinkmodo claims this stunt featured “regular bystanders, not actors, happening upon what appears to be an attempted murder.” Not actors, maybe, but certainly people who were recruited and told they were part of a stunt. The fake-horrifying video has over 6.6 million views, which is way more eyeballs than saw the movie.

john st.’s latest self-promo video, “ExFEARinetial,” perfectly skewers this desperate trend.

There are so many entertaining bits here: the BP oil spill reference, the “flash mobs” quote, the deriding of all the “space” stunts, even the fake “Unescapable” tagline.

The video just garnered john st. Canadian “Agency of the Year” at an awards show hosted by Strategy magazine.


It’s hard to pick a favourite among john st.’s self-promo videos. Last year, the shop ridiculed the industry obsession with the word “viral” by creating a faux service called “Buyral” – the goal being to guarantee a video goes viral by eliminating the need for actual viewers. Again, it’s the attention to detail that makes it a winner.

In 2011, the agency “opened” the first Catvertising ad agency. The video is a bit fluffier than their other efforts, but still well produced. Not surprisingly, it has gotten the most views out of all their promo ads.

Angus Tucker, partner/co-creative director at john st. says the process for creating the self-promo videos is simple. They try to do two things: make it funny, and make some kind of comment on a trend in advertising/marketing.

“And then we just try to do it super seriously. We want some people to think we're actually doing it because it tends to fuel a lot of chatter online. Half of the comments on exFEARential are ‘WTF? This is horrible!!’ And the other half are ‘Relax, it's a joke’,” says Tucker.

john st. has found the apparently hard-to-find creative linchpin of memorably and entertainingly showing how serious they are about advertising.

That understanding of their business has translated into good work for their clients.

john st. created the website for Mitsubishi to help people get over their fear of electric cars. The marketing effort won them a Lion at last summer’s Cannes Creativity Festival.

They also came up with a “Your Man Reminder” app for Canadian breast cancer organisation Rethink Breast Cancer. The accompanying video has almost seven million total YouTube views and the project was one of TED’s ten global “Ideas Worth Spreading.”

But if john st. wants to make some serious money, I think they should offer their self-promo creative services to the hot big shot ad firms. Triple the mark-up; they’ll probably still pay for it, because they sure as fuck need the help.

Previously by Mark Copyranter Duffy - Why Are So Many Social Media Managers Dipshits?