The national grocery franchise No Frills, a division of Loblaws Incorporated is using comic strips in its flyers to engage its customers and advertise on social media. Known as the Haulerverse, No Frills has created a take on a comic book universe in which savvy grocery shoppers are saving their neighbourhood from high prices and a Tornado spewing luxury frills. This interesting use of comic books and superhero culture as a means of advertising a grocery store was the work of a Canadian advertising agency with input from Canadian and French artists. We got in touch with Ashley McGill, Brand Director at No Frills for some insight into this campaign.

This post was not sponsored by No Frills and is intended to document this new piece of Canadian comics history. 

The inspiration for the campaign was to tap into the aspirational and unifying spirit of traditional superhero comics. It also makes sense to tap into the genre of the multi-billion dollar superhero media landscape which is ever more prevalent in popular culture. Aligning that imagery with your product or brand is already a prevalent marketing angle. “We wanted a campaign that bundles up the pride of getting a good deal and gives it the bravado it deserves.” says McGill. But this campaign goes the extra mile in actually producing comic pages to include in their flyers. Some adverrtisers may have simply used the art style but I appreciate the actual creation of a comic story, no matter how outlandish it is. These flyers are now digital though due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and for NoFrills that may be a permanent change. You can read along with the weekly comic pages in their digital flyer or at their website.

Comics are an incredible medium for telling a story, and this was something we wanted to tap into.

Ashley McGill Brand Director, No Frills

For avid comic readers, the art may come off as amateur compared to the artistry of modern comics. However for a general audience a simpler style is probably sufficient, and even a modern art style by top talent doesn’t necessarily make for engaging advertising (as the HBO Max cross promotion by DC comics demonstrates) . It also seems that they were not expecting to go all digital, in which case simpler colour and art would look better when printed on cheap newsprint just like comics were originally made. These flyers may have actually made a fun little collection in print and could’ve sparked the joy of collecting in children.

But for the marketing arm of a major corporation the idea of a shared ad campaign that brought together many forms of media was the main draw. “From our brand’s social media to The Rise of the Frills: Volume One, our episodic comic delivered through the digital flyer, people are able to explore the Haulerverse in more ways beyond a television spot, deepening their relationship with the brand.” The sequential art medium gives plenty of opportunity for advertisers to tell a story in their own way and engage the public in ways a regular image ad can’t. Many brands have used comics as advertising in newspapers, magazines and even comic books themselves, but this might be a first at least in Canada for grocery store flyers and likely the only as an ongoing serial story. They also seem to be promoting the campaign in conjunction with the FanExpo Canada convention.

While no specific artists were credited for the comics themselves, Canadian independent artists were involved in the characters and graphic design. This multifaceted campaign included the main anime inspired video ad by French animators, a hip hop album Haulin’ State of Mind (on Spotify) made with Canadian musicians, and Aisles of Glory a browser based pixel style video game made in Canada (now seemingly offline). Independent artists can get in on these sorts of ad campaigns by banding together into collectives such as the RAID studio which are appealing for advertisers to work with, or to build relationships with advertising agencies directly such as the one behind this campaign John St. .

When asked about the possibility of a typical comic release for the Haulerverse story I received the typical public relations answer of maybe. “You never know what No Frills will do next, so never say never.” But as a fan of NoFrills and their plain advertising style I would love to see a No Name® brand comic book at the end of registers nationwide. (I mean the yellow t-shirts sold out immediately) And much like Archie comics have done for years, you never know what kid it may inspire to make their own comics. I highly doubt we will ever see any other comic books return to grocery stores.

Mock up by Brendan Montgomery, but seriously No Frills make this happen