July 27, 2011
The Agensí isn’t a huge ad agency like Saatchi and Saatchi or Wieden+Kennedy, but the Toronto-based company is responsible for some very successful and innovative advertising campaigns for housing and condo developments in Toronto, Miami, and other cities around the world.
Instead of striving for the name familiarity that these huge companies can boast about, Agensí founder Oscar Weis prefers to keep a low profile. “Everyone wants to know ‘Who’s Oscar?’ but I keep it to myself,” he says.
Although Oscar keeps his profile low, thirty years of experience in the industry and a string of successes has made him highly sought after by a diverse group of companies and organizations. He doesn’t just specialize in condo and housing advertising, in his long career he’s worked on campaigns for General Motors, the St. Lawrence Market, Chevrolet and the government of Spain.
Much like his personality, his campaigns are injected with a unique character and eccentricities that make them memorable and exciting. But enough chit-chat, let’s get down to the real Buzz Talking.
BuzzBuzzHome: What inspired you to pursue a career in advertising?
Oscar Weis: I was a teacher. I started teaching in Winnipeg. I realized that communicating to a class and communicating to the masses is very similar and as long as you have a very good communication strategy you can communicate an idea in a creative way and achieve a certain result.
I came to Toronto and one ad agency looked at me and said “on Wednesday, we are pitching an account and if we get the account then you get a job,” and I did. They threw me to the lions and I managed. Nine months after I was hired, I started my own company. That was Weis Advertising, then it became The Agensí.
BBH: When and why did you change the name?
OW: Ten years ago and because it was different. My claim to fame in this country was my campaign for tourism in Spain — say ‘sí’ to Spain. I was owning the word ‘sí’ here, which is a very good thing to own. ‘Yes!’ So I was capitilalizing on past work when I branded my agency, “The Agensí.” I think that’s one of the best creative jobs I’ve ever done.
I always kept it small. I have seven or eight great guys working with me. I like to work with young people and I open doors for new talent. People like to work with Oscar, I’m not easy, but I know that when I direct people, we do something great, not mediocre. The clients are happy because I give them results.
BBH: So you only work with seven or eight people at a given time?
OW: Yes, now what I’m doing is I try to work with art directors from anywhere in the world. I speak six languages. I consider myself, not a multinational, but an international organization. I feel as comfortable in the streets of Madrid as I do in Toronto or Bangkok. People tell me they’d like to have my lifestyle, but I say “spend a day in my shoes and you’ll see that it’s a lot of responsibility.”
BBH: Has the industry changed in the years you’ve been involved?
OW: Completely! I remember I used to teach classes about the creative process and media and advertising at Ryerson and OCAD. Being a teacher, they wanted me to talk to students. I remember at the beginning, the media was very structured, it was like outdoors, print, electronic media, and matchboxes. Then there was suddenly, with the electronic media, huge increase of accessibility with the Internet.
You compete for the attention of your target much more now. You have seconds. I believe that one thing is the first impression and the other is to have the person come back because the first impression was good. Everything changed.
The structure of The Agensí is different too. If I didn’t have an office [in a skyscraper] with a girl up front, I would not get a client. Now, it’s more loose. It’s enough to guarantee to clients that they’ll have my creative.
And because of the globalization of the world, ideas are globalized too. The likes or dislikes are quite similar according to the cycle of things. If I need to sell luxury condominiums in Toronto, there are certain degrees of directional aspects that can be the same in Costa Rica or Paris or New York. I bring that to my clients — different perspectives.
BBH: How about social media? How have you been using that in campaigns?
OW: I’ll tell you something. In 1994, I was very young and I had a triple bypass, so I had to stay home for about five months. What I did was learn email. Nobody was using it. I was one of the first agencies that had Macintosh’s in the studio and one of the first agencies to own a fax. And as well, one of the first agencies that worked with emails.
It was a natural progression. Every time that there’s a new type of social media, if you use it well, not just try to copycat, then you will achieve results.QR codes are one example. If there’s something new, I’ll bring it here. Another example: I was the first to bring those billboards that go from the top of the of building all the way down to Canada.
Camrost, a client of mine, was building a structure. I put a picture of ice cream cone on the building and every time they would finish a floor, I would put another scoop of ice cream. At the end, after 15 scoops, I added a cherry that said “Welcome home.”
I do innovations at my scale. I’m not afraid of new mediums or using social media. I was using it way, way before people were saying “Oh it’s cool, you need to do Facebook.”
BBH: Are there any striking differences in the way people in other countries react to advertising when compared to Canadians?
OW: Yes. The collective subculture is very interesting because what is agreeable in Canada might not be agreeable in New York. There is a lot of self-censorship here. Let’s try not to offend. I push the limits because if not, there is no way you can compete.
Did you know that from when a person wakes up in the morning to when he goes to bed, he’s exposed to more than 5000 brands? Probably the first thing you see is the toothpaste or face cloth brand. Then you have TV, billboards, emails… There’s so much that we’re exposed to! There has to be a way that it will stay with you. The two pillars of advertising are reach and frequency and by having a very solid creative strategy you achieve better reach and frequency and you don’t need high budgets.
BBH: Let’s take an example of one of your advertising campaigns in Toronto: King Plus Condos. How did you start coming up with ideas for the way you wanted to present the campaign?
OW: It’s a mix. It’s a mix of location, it’s a mix of who the client is, who the target will be and what style the building will be. Then I start working. I wanted it to be abstract. I wanted to communicate that now King East is becoming very cool, but my office was there for 12 years and when I came it was not cool. The images are very strong and abstract and everything is based on a QR code.
We sold it in three months. We’re going into construction now. I didn’t spend much on advertising. I spent on a great brochure and activities such as the people going out and giving away brochures and it did the trick. Advertising alone doesn’t do it anymore. You need to be a communications orchestra man. You need to know how to play the trombone, how to play the drums and how to play the piano because everything brings together a communications strategy. The campaigns that stagnate just put out an ad. $26,000 in the newspaper and that’s it. I never do that because I’d be without clients.
BBH: For someone who wants to get a start in advertising, what advice do you have?
OW: First of all, don’t be afraid. Second of all, don’t try to be trendy, because trendy is fake. Third, be able to concoct an idea very clearly that will benefit what the client is trying to do. Let’s not just do an idea because it’s cool. Don’t be afraid of trying things as long as they’re within a strategy.
For me, I take chances. Of course you need experienced people like me to help you along — a guy who can bring those types of ideas to the table. For me, it’s a pleasure to work with young people because of the analytic mind, but I know when someone’s just trying to be trendy for the sake of being trendy.
BBH: You travel a lot for work. Where in the world is your favourite place to be?
OW: Spain. Of course I have some cultural affinity for it. I’m from Argentina and speak Spanish, but Spain is a country that I can sense freedom. It’s very beautiful physically and I feel comfortable there. People take life not as seriously. It’s okay to enjoy. That’s why I divide my time between Spain and Canada. Canada for me is the best country in the world.
BBH: You say on your website that Canada is the coolest country in the world.
OW: Cool because it is cold! I wish that Toronto would let itself evolve more naturally and gain more confidence. To be less regulated, that would be great.
BBH: What was the last book you read?
OW: I am reading a novel about Madrid. I’m always interested in urban stories. And I’m writing a little book about how cities communicate with their citizens. Basically it’s about semiotics, from street signs to billboards. You know who is the most open in the world? Berlin! I would have never imagined.
BBH: What was the last great movie you saw?
OW: A Canadian one that is fantastic. Incendies! Very good. There’s great talent in Canada.
Thanks Oscar for taking the time to buzz with us!