An Edmonton creative ﬁrm earns international recognition by seeing the forest from the trees
By Steven Sandor | April 19, 2022
Imagine going for a long walk in the woods. Standing next to you is Nathan Fillion. That’s right — The Rookie himself. Castle. Captain Mal.
OK, that’s probably not going to happen. But the next best thing is to take a virtual tour of Alberta’s forests, a Choose Your Own Adventure-ish web application narrated by Fillion, where he soothingly tells you about how nature renews itself, how our trees are managed and, well, to look out for mosquitoes.
In 2021, the Love Alberta Forests site premiered, allowing users to go into the woods while sitting at home, with Fillion riding shotgun.
And it’s a perfect example of how the creative industry is shifting. More and more, it’s about selling ideas. Brands. Concepts. It’s not about where to ﬁnd the latest shoe sale or where you can get two-for-one bags of potato chips.
“We are a hearts-and-minds ﬁrm. We’re more into selling ideas, rather than a product,” says Michael Brechtel, partner of Berlin Advertising and Public Relations, which was commissioned by the Alberta Forest Products Association to create the microsite. “We’re not therapists. We’re not missionaries. We ask our clients about what they want their brand to be.”
In late 2021, Berlin was given a nod for creating one of the world’s top microsites, as judged by Communication Arts magazine. It was a major coup for a ﬁrm located far away from London, New York or Los Angeles.
Brechtel says that, after Berlin was awarded the campaign, the creative people knew that they wanted a Canadian voice narrating the microsite — a voice that was easily recognizable. And, while there were others on the shortlist, Fillion was the clear first choice. “He was a great, interesting person to work with and is the type of personality who can open doors to people’s brains.”
Here’s an Exercise:
Think of the greatest ad you’ve ever seen. Maybe it was in a magazine, or you watched it during the Super Bowl. Maybe it was on a billboard.
Now ask yourself, was it selling you anything directly? Did it tell you that the local dealership had four blue pickups on the lot, with $500 rebates each? Did it tell you stereos were on sale at the mall till the weekend? No.
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The ad campaigns we remember are the ones that establish the idea of a brand. They tell stories.
They are about marrying the Nike swoosh to Michael Jordan, ﬂying through the air towards the basket. They are about dashes into a surreal world of nonsense where we taste the rainbow. They tell us a wristwatch will help us live our best James Bond life. They show us celebrities dancing on the roof of a Paris townhouse, Eiffel Tower in the background, and only mention for one second that it’s really all about the perfume.
And, whether it’s a corporate giant, a small business, charitable organization or a political party, brand is the thing. Brand is what remains in collective memory. It outlasts TikTok buzz and the drinking-water-from-a-hose news cycle.
It’s why forward-thinking creative ﬁrms are focusing on brand.
“For a long time, as we were working on selling, we lost focus on the brand side,” says Brechtel. “That has changed.”
Brechtel says that there are still other ﬁrms that do the “functional digital advertising,” which tells people when and where to go to get the deals — and Berlin sometimes hires them out if need be. And he does think that down the road, the brand-sided and functional advertising businesses will reunite. But, in 2022, they are on different tracks.
And branding is important in the political sphere, as well. In the autumn, after fulfilling his final term as a city councillor, Michael Walters joined Berlin as a senior director of public relations and strategy. He and Brechtel agree a crowded social-media space makes getting the message out harder than it ever was before. Trying to ﬁgure out which of the self-appointed “inﬂuencers” actually have inﬂuence is difﬁcult. “It’s a messy process,” Brechtel says. But it’s up to them to advise business and political clients on who can be the game changers, and who should be the ones helping spread the brand messages.
“It is our job to understand who are the inﬂuencers in this space, so public policy decision makers can get the most out of the information that’s in front of them,” says Brechtel.
It’s easy to think of branding as an evil process, but, Walters says that it’s something people who push even the noblest of causes need to understand.
“It is about using the process to help organizations make the world a better place,” he says. And, with so much political division, with COVID making us less conﬁdent about our future, it’s important that clients get a message out that pierces through the noise.
“The world is jittery right now, the world is discombobulated,” says Walters. “The world is skittish, and we have a sense of detachment.”
Maybe what we could all use in order to calm ourselves down is a quiet walk in the woods with Nathan Fillion.
This article appears in the April 2022 issue of Edify