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Aldo Cundari is chairman and CEO of Cundari Group Ltd., one of Canada’s largest independent communications companies. After completing studies at L’Istituto Europeo di Disegno in Rome, Italy, Cundari quickly established himself in the marketing field in Canada. In his 30-plus years in the advertising business, he has developed an ever-increasing client base, always with an emphasis on the integrated communications approach he pioneered in Canada. He has grown Cundari from a two-person shop to a thriving integrated communications firm with offices in Toronto and Montréal, servicing some of Canada’s most trusted brands, including BMW, TELUS, CIBC and SUBWAY Restaurants. In 2010, Cundari was appointed to the Canadian Marketing Association’s board of directors, and served as a judging chair of the CMA Awards for three years. In 2012, Cundari Group was ranked in the top three agencies in Canada and top ten digital agencies worldwide.

04.15.14

Purity of Message

What was your riskiest professional decision? Early in our history Cundari did a lot of CPG [consumer packaged goods] work for major global brands. We had a great reputation, but working with global brands at that time meant that we were always considered as a below-the-line agency. The only way to change our market positioning was to move completely away from that type of work. In less than six years we dropped over 60 percent of our clients and started to rebuild in different sectors. We had to clear the deck and redefine Cundari to be recognized as an agency thought leader.

You have branded a number of cities and places. Why is a brand important for a geographical location, and how do you approach the job? Countries, regions and cities compete with each other for attention, visitors, investment, consumers, political and commercial influence. An effective brand can successfully differentiate a place from its competition, easily explain its purpose and indicate the value that it provides for its citizens, institutions and enterprises. It tells the story about what a place does, how it operates and how it behaves, and enables everyone to make “on-brand” decisions about development, investment, marketing and communications. The most important key to place branding is authenticity. You cannot fake it. It’s our job to find and interpret the truth of a geographical location and turn that into a story. This process takes total immersion and the removal of all biases. A Cundari team just returned from Armenia, where we are helping to rebrand the country. The team will spend months there, speaking with hundreds of stakeholders. A place brand is more than a logo; it’s an insight and a language that must resonate with all stakeholders and have buy-in from local government, with policies, infrastructure and investment to support it. Place branding is designed to build, over time, into valuable brand equity that can enable even small, remote or previously unknown places to “punch above their weight” in the international marketplace.

What trends in advertising are you most interested in and why? Technology puts customers in full control of the information they receive and which sources they trust, as well as when, where and how they are informed. Because of this, we see a big trend in advertising and marketing to return to a “purity of message.” You simply can’t sell crap anymore. There has to be an honesty and transparency to advertising, because consumers have the ability to opt out, and they will. It’s pushing agencies to be more creative and insightful than ever.

What is one challenge currently facing advertising agencies that they need to address in order to remain relevant? The biggest issue is that ad agencies have remained ad agencies. Consumers’ path to purchase has changed and so must our tactics. We cannot operate in silos or in isolated moments. Conversion can only be achieved through a holistic integrated approach that is authentically tied to moments of truth during the purchase journey. There are entirely new groups of consumers out there that need to be considered. Agencies have to adapt and truly understand consumption to stay relevant. If you’re still a traditional ad agency, you’re in big trouble.

What skills do young creatives need to succeed in advertising today? I see more and more CCOs with degrees from major business schools. I love to see brilliant creatives who can also bring a sense of business acumen to their role. They are far more intuitive about this industry and you can see it in their work.

How does your training as a sculptor influence your work? I can look at an object that has no form and see the form within it. I think that foresight has given me the ability to get to solutions more quickly.

Why have you chosen to do charity work with the National Advertising Benevolent Society (NABS)? NABS offers personal and career counseling, career coaching, financial counseling, professional workshops and a 24-hour hotline. Our industry is high-stress; it’s cyclical and at times unpredictable. Having a charity that understands and supports the people in this community and is tailored to our specific challenges can ensure talent stays in the pool and people are kept afloat when they need it the most, without having to sacrifice the career they are passionate about.