2012 Agencies of the Year Shortlist: Cundari

December 18, 2012  |  Carly Lewis  |  Comments

An agency with 30 years of history behind it finds the creative energy of a startup

At Cundari, the name of the game isn’t just winning business. It’s winning the right kind of business and putting the right people on the account, says founding chief executive officer Aldo Cundari.

“The new world requires that you assemble a team based on the need in the client’s ask. The team will never look the same. It can’t, because the ask is always different,” he says, before adding one more tenet to the Cundari business model: “There are no boundaries to creativity.”

That philosophy paid off very well in 2012. While the agency has been around for 30 years, few would have described it as a creative hotshop before now. But in the last 12 months, Cundari secured hardware from many of the major award shows, including Fast Company’s Innovation by Design award. They also earned themselves features in Wired, Fast Company, Forbes and on CNN.

It was a stunning year by any standard, but aside from winning kudos, Cundari was also winning new business from CIBC (digital), Dempster’s, Maple Leaf Foods and Allan Candy. That winning streak meant 14 new staff members were added to the team, and revenues were up 8%.

Much of the Cundari buzz arose from a very special (and now very famous) project for Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children. The Pain Squad mobile app for young cancer patients has been widely praised by doctors, researchers and the families of those who use it.

SickKids needed a new way to encourage kids to fill out their pain journals. The paperwork was tedious and many patients, especially those undergoing chemotherapy, were often too exhausted to complete it or would put it off so long they’d have to estimate their past pain levels, resulting in less-than-accurate records.

Cundari produced a fun, interactive mobile app that integrated entertainment into the otherwise unpleasant task.

Brent Choi, Cundari’s chief creative officer, says Pain Squad was something his whole team got behind. Cundari’s marketing director, for example, called in a personal favour by recruiting actors from Rookie Blue and Flashpoint to record videos for the app. “Kids with cancer are still kids,” says Choi. “They don’t like homework and they don’t like vegetables, but they like games. So that insight is what we used to gamify this pain journal.”

Dr. Jennifer Stinson, an advanced practice nurse in the chronic pain program at SickKids, says having correct pain records is vital. “Acute pain that’s not well-treated can lead to persistent, chronic pain,” she says. “It’s key for us to get on it and manage pain quickly and effectively.” Thanks to Cundari, they can do that now. “I can’t speak highly enough of Cundari,” says Stinson. “They thought outside the box. I think this gaming concept within the app is really novel and innovative. It’s appealing to kids.” Test runs of the app have returned compliance rates of over 90%—a figure previously unheard of. Pain Squad was a popular Best of Show winner at the Marketing Awards this year, and one Canadian creative director from a competing agency was certain it would win Grand Prix in Cannes. It didn’t, but two Gold Lions (the first in Cundari’s history) aren’t exactly small change. SickKids and Cundari are now working to make Pain Squad available in Apple’s app store for early 2013.

Pain Squad wasn’t the year’s only creative highlight. Cundari also pulled off BMW’s M5 launch, CIBC’s Pan American Games-themed bank branch and a sixteen-foot-tall sculpture that welcomes visitors to Toronto.

After producing two viral hits for BMW in 2011 (“Walls” and “Helipad”), Cundari did it again in 2012. In the months following the launch of Cundari’s BMW “Bullet” TV spot, the company boasted record sales and garnered three million YouTube views in eight days, making it one of the most-watched videos in Canadian history.

For CIBC, Cundari brought the Pan Am games to life by wrapping a bank branch exterior in branded façades and installing a 1:10 scale indoor running track inside. Cundari says this is just the tip of the iceberg for CIBC, and that over the next three years they will “engulf the city with creativity” in celebration of the games.

Choi says he’s excited about all of Cundari’s successes this year, but that Pain Squad – and the Fast Company accolade that came with it – was their tour de force. “It was just an indication of where the industry is going and of how creativity can be applied,” he says. “We had to beat out Microsoft Windows 8 for that award. That’s a pretty phenomenal statement of how we’re applying creativity, and that makes us proud.”

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