This week’s Effective Perspective Spotlight features Zak Mroueh, CCO & Founder of Canada’s award-winning agency, Zulu Alpha Kilo. The 2019 AME Advisory Council member spent a few minutes with Effective Perspective to share his thoughts on creative and strategic success, the importance of effectiveness, and his favorite recent campaign and more.
Zak Mroueh has been busy for the past decade building his agency Zulu Alpha Kilo into a globally awarded 110-person independent.
Throughout the years this creative and effective agency has garnered numerous accolades in prominent award competition including earning the 2018 AME Platinum Award North America for Harley Davidson Canada. In 2016, Zulu Alpha Kilo was named Ad Age’s Small Agency of the Year, the first time a non-U.S. agency had ever won overall top honours. The agency was also awarded as Ad Age’s International Small Agency of the Year in 2017.
A sought after creative and thought leader, most recently, Zak was featured in the May and April issues of Forbes magazine after Zulu was recognized as one of North America’s best small companies and praised for challenging the business conventions of the industry.
AME Awards: Why did you agree to participate on the AME Advisory Council?
Zak Mroueh: As great as it feels for us creative people to win awards, our work is only being judged by other creatives. To maintain relevance as an industry and with our clients, we need to demonstrate the effectiveness of our work. After all, it’s why we’re here and is key to the future of our industry. That’s why I agreed to participate.
AME Awards: As a strategic creative, what stand-out attributes do you recognize in award-winning creative and effective advertising…what do ads that have taken the brief and turned it into campaign that transforms opinions, evokes action and raises the bar for the brand have in common?
Zak Mroueh: I’ve always found the best ideas are equal parts creative and strategy. You can’t have one without the other. What they have in common is that they are easily summarized in an elevator pitch. So, whether at a party or having a family dinner, everyday people are able to share and articulate what they’ve seen to others. The idea and strategy are uncomplicated. The creative brief is showing. There’s an element of magic to it that entertains, provokes or educates. The reason most advertising isn’t creative or effective is we overthink and overcomplicate the process.
AME Awards: In your personal work what are the hallmarks of creative and strategic success? What measurably effective campaign are you most proud of?
Zak Mroueh: To me, the best creatives are strategic, and the best strategists are creative. When you have an amazing brief, it makes the ideation process so much easier. In absence of a great brief, creative people have to bring out their inner strategist. As for recent campaigns, I’m very proud of a piece that our agency created called “The Away Game” for iconic Canadian coffee-and-donut chain Tim Hortons. We brought the only hockey team in Kenya to Canada, where they played a game alongside two of the greatest players in the sport today – Pittsburgh Penguins’ Sidney Crosby and Colorado Avalanche’s Nathan MacKinnon. It struck a nerve globally and we even turned it into a long-format documentary that played on national television. More than a typical ad, it got our entire country talking. The results have far exceeded expectations and “The Away Game” has become part of pop culture in Canada.
AME Awards: How do advertising/marketing awards that focus exclusively on Effectiveness, like AME help set the standard of excellence within the industry?
Zak Mroueh: There used to be a time when the effectiveness of an ad was all that mattered. But then creative awards came along and were like a magician’s misdirect. Our industry was mesmerized by the shiny gold objects, and, as the shows multiplied and expanded, many creatives forgot their purpose. Shows dedicated to effectiveness are becoming more important globally because they weed out the scam work that has infiltrated many creative shows. There’s now even the global WARC 100, which is the effectiveness answer to the Gunn Report. It measures agencies on the results of their work based on how they do at the top effectiveness shows worldwide.
AME Awards: Are industry awards important and if so, what’s the ROI (value added besides a trophy) for entering?
Zak Mroueh: This is probably not what an awards show wants to hear, but I wish awards didn’t exist. They make agencies focus on the wrong things at times. That said, as long as they’re here, awards are one measuring stick for how well your creative product stacks up on a global scale. The value in entering is two-fold. It attracts talent and, yes, even clients. In fact, clients who seemingly don’t believe in awards will still shortlist agencies in pitches based on the reputation an agency has built through winning them. So, awards have some inherent value from an agency profile and new business perspective. For now.