Cassies 2016

Behind the scenes of Canada’s best advertising campaigns of 2015

Campaign: Unexpected Gifts     
Client: Canadian Tire    
Agency: TAXI    
Campaign period: November-December 2012, 2013 and 2014

2016 CASSIES award winner: Silver (Long-Term Success)

Canadian Tire’s ‘Unexpected Gifts’ campaign solved the annual problem of finding gifts that were familiar enough to be instantly accepted and yet unique enough to provide that extra surge of Christmas morning excitement in a fun and watchable way.
— Jani Yates is CASSIES board chair and president of the ICA

The Client

Canadian Tire was faced with a challenge when it decided to position itself as the store for Christmas gifts. How could the company go on offense in the gifting category, best showcase its vast assortment of options and differentiate itself from competitors?
“It’s a crowded retail space with a lot of competition to generate in-store traffic,” says Susan O’Brien, Canadian Tire’s vice-president of strategic marketing. “So we literally took our investigation to stores and spent time exploring each and every aisle, asking ourselves what we would personally want to receive as gifts.”

What they quickly realized is that what makes Canadian Tire unique as a brand is exactly what makes it unique in the gift space. “Our broad and eclectic assortment is what we’re all about. Excluding auto parts, we sell about 50,000 different products, and this vast choice means that people can actually choose thoughtful gifts that will be truly appreciated.”
Canadian Tire’s creative agency TAXI took this idea and transformed it into a campaign that positioned Canadian Tire as the place to buy unexpected gifts.

“They chose a brilliant and unorthodox approach, doing a whole series of 15-second ad spots so that we could show the incredible array of gift options available at Canadian Tire,” says Ms. O’Brien. “The more unique and eclectic the item, the funnier the ad.”

The resounding success of the campaign encouraged Canadian Tire to build on the concept the following year. In the 2015 Christmas season, the company marked four years of using variations on this theme that continues to resonate powerfully with consumers.

“We measure every piece of creative, and all three key measures of this campaign just keep getting stronger, year after year,” says Ms. O’Brien.

The reason is simple: it’s brought the company significant results, changed perceptions of the brand and showcased the company as Canada’s Christmas Store. Canadian Tire continues to be the place to go for seasonal lights and snow shovels, but it’s also where you can find perfect gifts for everyone from your foodie sister-in-law to your DIYer uncle.

“It’s great to have a funny campaign that piques interest,” says Ms. O’Brien. “But no matter how funny the campaign, it needs to be based on real insight or it just won’t resonate. TAXI nailed it because ‘Unexpected Gifts’ is all about the assortment we offer – which is what we’re known for and why it’s been so successful.”

TAXI - Canadian Tire spokesperson.jpg
TAXI nailed it because ‘Unexpected Gifts’ is all about the assortment we offer – which is what we’re known for and why it’s been so successful.”
— Susan O’Brien is Canadian Tire’s vice-president of strategic marketing

The Agency

For TAXI, getting consumers to think of Canadian Tire as a place to purchase holiday gifts meant helping them see that Canadian Tire is not just “Canada’s Store” but “Canada’s Christmas Store.”   
“Canadian Tire really is Canada’s general store,” says Agatha Wronecka, general manager of TAXI Canada. “The company is one of the country’s most celebrated retailers, it has a location within 15 minutes of 90 per cent of our population, store owners live in the community and each store has an unbelievable selection of products.”

TAXI had already used these defining features of the nearly 100-year-old retailer as a starting point to develop the tagline and brand platform “Canada’s Store.” So when it came time to try and increase the company’s share of the holiday market, it was a natural evolution to position the retailer as “Canada’s Christmas Store.”

And while Canadian Tire was top of mind for Christmas trees, décor and other holiday items, the challengewas how to showcase the retailer as a destination for Christmas gifts, and help increase its share of the lucrative gifting market.

And this is where TAXI and Canadian Tire turned a challenge into an asset. As Ms. Wronecka points out, the traditional gift is not what most people want to unwrap on Christmas morning. Canadian Tire, however, has something for everybody – no matter what their interest.
In 2012, the agency developed 15-second commercials for 10 different products that would make unexpected – but very welcome – gifts. The spots featured Canadian Tire spokesperson Gary offering gift suggestions that ranged from welding masks to snowshoes to meat grinders.
Inspiration is found in Canadian Tire’s rich product offering. “We talk with people in Canadian Tire’s merchandise team about unique and relevant products to profile,” says Ms. Wronecka. ”And, more broadly, we have this strong creative platform that features our funny and endearing spokesperson. Together, that keeps it fresh.”

Over the four years of the Unexpected Gifts campaign, TAXI has produced more than 40 individual ads. And each year of the campaign, Canadian Tire further cements its place as Canada’s Christmas Store with an innovative approach built on the campaign’s broad appeal.
Ms. Wronecka says that the dynamic between Canadian Tire and TAXI is a real partnership, and she’s proud of the fact that it extends back 10 years. “Canadian Tire gives us such rich material for developing interesting creative work. They are continually deepening their understanding of consumers, fine-tuning their products and improving their retail experience, all in service to being the best retailer in Canada.”

Canadian Tire gives us such rich material for developing interesting creative work.
— Agatha Wronecka is general manager of TAXI Canada

Canadian Tire “Unexpected Gifts” campaign by the numbers
91% Canadian Tire’s brand link score in year three, compared to an industry norm of 60%
24% increase in transaction volumes compared to prior year
552.5% increase in fineline category sales compared to 2011,
the benchmark year before the start of the campaign

A series of 15-second TV spots featuring the practical wisdom of Canadian Tire spokesperson Gary reinforced the message that Canadian Tire is the one-stop destination for Christmas gifts ranging from waffle irons to a backyard rink in a box.


About the Awards
The CASSIES is Canada’s only awards show recognizing the
business effectiveness of advertising as demonstrated by rigorous published cases. The ICA (Institute of Communication Agencies) is the driving force behind the event, which is hosted by Strategy magazine and supported in Quebec by the AAPQ A2C (Association of Creative Communications Agencies) and APCM (Association des professionnels de la communication et du marketing).  

Now celebrating its 23rd anniversary, the CASSIES reflect the ICA’s long-standing dedication to the advertiser-agency partnership and continuous learning. Winning cases must successfully navigate a demanding two-tier examination by senior-level judges. All told, more than 500 success stories have been published in the Case Library at

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