The Origin Story

The CRUEL ‘blob’ and event marketing in the 21st century.

While still in university, a group of enterprising young people had an idea. We could grow a brand using social dynamics with little to no money, and what used to be kept for advertising executives was democratized for, well, us. For the first time, orchestrating growth through content became not only important, but inexpensive.

The CRUEL entity had no defined revenue stream, business model, or shape. However, CRUEL made it through this phase because of this – not in spite of it. With numerous people involved in this seemingly vague idea, everyone working on the project felt considerable ownership over this soon-to-be company. The brand meant different things to different people, ultimately becoming a place for young people to interact with one another online, and later in real life.

CRUEL Queen’s was the first creation, started as a Facebook Page to display photographs and form a localized conduit for students in Kingston to interact with the CRUEL brand, and each other.

Building Our Brand

Divide and conquer, CRUEL Travel and our first real client.

We set up 7 different autonomous CRUEL outlets on university campuses across the country - Toronto, Waterloo, London, Montreal, Kingston, Halifax, and Guelph. These outlets used the CRUEL brand name (and online resources, more importantly) to put together events and lifestyle content in their respective cities in exchange for growing our brand. This was the most effective way we could think of to grow the brand with very little money. This ‘Growth Hack’ was the first in a long line of Hacks used to further the brand - a central motif in this meandering story.

Seeing the effectiveness of events in garnishing social media attention, we leaned into this strategy. CRUEL executed over 300 events in 2014 across Eastern Canada.

With a dynamic network of young people starting to form, the next step was connecting all of these people (and trying to make some money). As music festivals were extremely profitable at the time, we felt like we could move these people to and from locations – thus CRUEL Travel was born. As a way of continuing to grow the brand and to monetize, we leveraged these micro-operations onto travel packages. We ultimately sidelined the CRUEL Travel project, but we learned about e-marketing towards a specific target market, and localization in the context of social media. Most importantly though, we expanded our network significantly.

Through the connections we made via the CRUEL Travel project, we got our first paying job in marketing – to launch a new music festival in Wasaga Beach called Electric Elements. Although the owners of the festival had the permits, production, and finances handled, they needed to book their lineup, brand the festival, and figure out how to launch it within an already saturated market. After months of careful deliberation and strategizing, the festival ended up as a success, with over 7000 attendees and a lineup featuring Benny Benassi, Adventure Club, and DVBBS.

A Real Company?

Growth Hacking, CRUEL Buzz, and deciding between a media brand or an agency.

Although the foundations were laid as an agency, CRUEL still had a large online presence and the temptation to be a stand-alone media brand was great. With the time and effort that was spent to grow various arms of the company throughout Canada, we felt like it would be a waste to give up on having a centralized product that took advantage of this.

Our next idea was to start a Buzzfeed-style platform, called CRUEL Buzz. This, similarly to CRUEL Travel, was designed to take advantage of the micro-pages we had set up previously. The idea with CRUEL Buzz was to publish localized content, and distribute through these smaller social media organisms. CRUEL Buzz exploded right off the bat, as we already had a collective reach of 200,000+ young people per week. Through viral content, CRUEL Buzz garnished our central website over 2 million views, and 900k localized and unique visitors over 4 months.

CRUEL Buzz turned out to be the biggest ‘growth hack’ yet, and leveraged our events platform into a brand that was seen by millions of young people in Canada. However, we ran into yet another wall; the diminishing returns of managing a localized writer-base, coupled with the need to produce hundreds of articles every week left us with an impending decision of whether to commit more resources or scale back. Based on the success of our platform growth in past years, we continued to attract attention for our marketing services. The CRUEL Buzz project was thus put on hold, and we merged our entire network of localized social media outlets into one centralized product – CRUEL.

First Big Break

Working with a Fortune 500 company and our new agency mentality.

The phone started to ring with more consistency. For the first time, we started marketing ourselves explicitly as an agency. Our experience and network in the entertainment, digital, and content industries led to continued interest in these services. Our clients love our fresh take on the marketing landscape, and our intricate knowledge of the millennial generation. This approach led us to our first large-scale client acquisition— Snapple Spiked. Given the experience we had with music festivals, their brand manager contacted us about their sampling program, and it seemed like a natural partnership. We distributed 100,000 unique samples, while executing 50+ events over the summer.

The Next Chapter

Still a group of passionate young people.

It is important for us to maintain the same organic feel as we continue to grow our team. Luckily for us, our additions have only furthered our eclectic sense of non-corporate identity.

Our story, though wandering, revolves around one central theme; every experience mentioned has cultivated the personality and experience that we put forth in our service offering.