CRUEL COLLECTIVE and event marketing in the 21st century.

While still in university, we became fascinated with the potential to develop a brand using the power of social dynamics. The world around us had changed, social media transformed the way we interacted with each other. With little to no money, we planned to democratize it for ourselves — and we did — sort of. CRUEL had no defined revenue stream, business model, or shape; and that’s why it worked. With numerous people involved in this seemingly vague idea, everyone working on the project felt considerable ownership, stretching the blob, and influencing its ventures. 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 started as a Facebook Page to display photos from campus events. It was the first time we used photography as a conduit for students to interact with each other, while intersecting with CRUEL. Next, we attempted to scale our approach.

CRUEL TRAVEL and our first real client.

We set up autonomous CRUEL outlets at university campuses across the country, including Toronto, Waterloo, London, Montreal, Kingston, Halifax, and Guelph. We leveraged lifestyle content and our online resources to support events, in exchange for growing our brand. This growth hack was the first in a long line of hacks used to further the brand — a central motif in our meandering story. Events were an effective way to garner social media attention, we sought to scale our model and we leaned into this strategy. CRUEL became an events platform and we 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 them (and trying to make some money to pay ourselves). Music festivals were extremely profitable at the time, we leveraged synergies between our events business and the festival scene in 2014. We felt like we could move these people to and from festivals. CRUEL Travel was born as a means of continuing to grow our brand, while monetizing through travel packages. Ultimately, we sidelined the CRUEL Travel project the same year — but we learned valuable lessons about marketing to a niche in the market, and localization in the greater context of social media. All of which was valuable to developing our business offering, but more importantly, we expanded our network again — this time in a professional sense. The CRUEL Travel project led us to our first paying job in marketing. In 2014, we helped launch Electric Elements Music Festival, hosted in Wasaga Beach, Ontario. While the primary organizers of the music festival had permits, production, and finances secured, they had not booked their lineup, branded the festival, or developed a launch strategy — and let us not forget, in 2014 the music festival market was already quite saturated. After months of careful deliberation and strategy, the festival saw over 7000 attendees, and a lineup featuring Benny Benassi, Adventure Club, and DVBBS — and our business took a big step towards legitimacy. Next, more growth hacking.

CRUEL BUZZ and deciding between a media brand or an agency.

CRUEL began 2015 with what looked like the early foundations of a marketing agency. But we still had a large online presence (30K), and the temptation to continue as a stand-alone lifestyle brand was prodigious. Having invested significant time and effort into growing our various outlets across Canada, we saw value in continuing to develop a centralized product online, funneling content to our existing platform and continuing to develop our network of young people.  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. Our idea was to develop and publish localized content, specific to each city, distributing and promoting it through the outlets we had already established. CRUEL Buzz exploded, as we already had a collective reach of 200,000+ young people per week. Through viral content, CRUEL Buzz garnered over 3 million views on our website, and over 1 million unique visitors over a 4-month period. CRUEL Buzz was our greatest ‘growth hack’ yet; it leveraged our events platform, key learnings from CRUEL Travel, and put our brand in front of millions of young people in Canada. There was a moment in 2015 when life was good, and CRUEL Buzz seemed to be the future — but not for long. 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. Again, it became a question of monetization; and, based on the success of our platform growth, we continued to attract attention for our abilities as a marketing services organization. We sidelined CRUEL Buzz the same year, and we merged our entire network of localized social media outlets (CRUEL COLLECTIVE, CRUEL BUZZ, CRUEL TRAVEL, CRUEL TO, CRUEL MTL, CRUEL QUEENS, CRUEL LONDON, CRUEL HALIFAX) into one centralized product: CRUEL. Next, building a business.

Working with a Fortune 500 company and developing an agency mentality.

The phone started to ring with more consistency. For the first time, we started marketing ourselves explicitly as an agency — of sorts. 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.