The World: Insider's View - Canada

Canada's ad industry has emerged from the shadows of UK and US advertising to make a name for itself, even making an impact on the awards ceremonies, Zak Mroueh writes.

Fifteen years ago, there were only two agencies in Canada I wanted to work for. By 1994, I had finagled my way into both. Nevertheless, I was feeling restless so, on a whim, I sent my book to the UK. To my surprise, I landed a job and found myself on a one-way flight across the Atlantic.

Once I arrived at my new agency, I noticed something rather peculiar. Everyone would introduce me as "Zak, our writer from America". At first I figured it was that British sense of humour I had heard so much about.

I soon realised "Canadian" just wasn't part of the lexicon, especially in the advertising world.

Ten years later, I'm happy to report the Canadian ad industry is in the middle of an exciting transformation.

No longer is there a feeling of inferiority to Madison Avenue or anywhere else in the world. At least, not if last year's showing at Cannes is any indication. In film, Canada tied the US and Britain for the most golds and claimed the third-largest number of shortlisted spots with 54. A Canadian shop created one of the three commercials considered for the Grand Prix.

At Taxi, we're leading the charge, selling the British Mini to North Americans.

The tide has turned.

In 2004, we even saw an increase in Canadian ad exports. A brilliant, long-running Bud Light campaign was picked up in the US. Downtown Partners DDB, the Canadian shop behind it, boasted the Super Bowl's most popular spot and, shortly after, opened an office in Chicago, while Taxi was bold enough to open its first US office in New York. The year ended, encouragingly, with two Canadian spots on Campaign's ten Best International TV ads list.

Perhaps this shift can be attributed to the industry's new view of itself. In the early 90s, a British accent or US passport was often enough to get you hired here. Today, Canadian planners, account people and creatives number among the talent at many of the world's top agencies, although it's not as if everyone's clamouring to leave these days.

Admittedly, we can't compete with some of the huge US salaries. However, we do offer less client and agency hierarchy and a greater emphasis on big ideas - more reasons than ever to stay. This summer, I hope to visit my friends in the UK, only this time, I expect them to get my nationality right.

- Zak Mroueh is the vice-president, executive creative director and a partner at Taxi, Toronto.