How to give voice to a brand? Look for the answers in McMaster’s Pirate Archive

Tom Eymundson, CEO of Pirate Group, Canada’s largest audio production company shares some of the lessons he’s learned throughout his celebrated career and talks about Pirate’s extensive archives, housed in McMaster University Library.

Tom Edmundson (pictured), CEO of Pirate Group, Canada’s largest audio production company shares some of the lessons he’s learned throughout his celebrated career and talks about Pirate’s extensive archives, housed in McMaster University Library.

If you’ve turned on a radio, watched TV, or surfed the internet in the past quarter century, chances are you’ve seen or heard many of the tens of thousands of ads created by Pirate Group Inc.– Canada’s largest and most acclaimed audio advertising production company.

From Tim Horton’s, Canadian Tire and Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, to global giants Coca Cola, Sony and Porsche to name just a few, Pirate Group Inc. has given voice to some of the most iconic brands in Canada and around the world.

In 2010, Pirate Group Inc. gifted its vast archive to McMaster University Library, and has been adding to the collection ever since.

Containing a wealth of insight into the creative and business processes behind the development of well over 50,000 ads, the Pirate Group Archive includes concept presentations, casting sessions, scripts, music, lyrics and sound effects, production edits and recording sessions, as well as ACTRA and actor contracts, even quotes and final billing.

Over the years, Pirate Group CEO, Tom Eymundson, has led the creation of many of these ads, winning several international awards along the way. A talent director, music producer and sound editor, Eymundson knows a thing or two about how to build a brand, and recently shared some of his many insights:

As an creative agency, you say Pirate Group gives a brand its voice – how do you do that?

Brands set their own objectives. It’s our job to help them achieve those objectives through effective communication including that of a distinctive voice. “Voice” is much more than just the human voice, it’s the words themselves, the music, song, sound effects and sonic ID (or “mnemonic” as it’s known in the industry) – it’s what we call “Sonic Branding”.

The Brand strategy helps determine which of the “voice” elements we need to develop and deploy – sometimes it’s only one of them: voice (Bonnie Brooks – the authority) for Hudson’s Bay. Sometimes it’s all of them; music (jazz), voice (thespian, confident), and sonic ID (Champagne flutes toasting) for Porter Airlines.

You’ve worked with major global and national brands, many of which have long histories. How do you bring something new to established brands?

Any brand with a long history has to have evolved over time both in its product/service offering as well as its marketing communications. Every time a person comes in contact with a brand the experience needs to be consistent, positive and distinct.  Sometimes all that’s required is reaffirming the brands relevance with a bit of a refresh, other times when a brand as gone stale, it needs a full make over.  In both cases it’s imperative that the brand’s history isn’t tossed aside but rather acknowledged and respected, after all, it’s the reason they have such lengthy tenure.

How do you give a brand or product that no one has heard of its voice? How is that different that working with an established brand?

Ah, the blank canvas.  Before we go about choosing paint colours we must first determine “What” we are doing and “Why” are doing it. This discovery process helps reveal both the truth and essence of a brand and it’s competitive advantage attributes.  Now we can choose “How” we’re going to paint the brand’s story.

You’ve also created ads for politicians, for example Stephen Harper, which are contained in the archive. What do you have to consider when building a political brand through advertising?

Political advertising is a reactionary game – an ever evolving jousting of promises and accusations. You need to determine a general direction at the onset (this is determined by the party leader and executive) and stick to that direction through to the vote.  If you wavier too much it’s often deemed as defeatist or weak.  Tone and manner is of utmost importance.  Advertising that feels too slick or contrived is often judged as fake.  Messaging should be simple, consistent and transparent.

Do you have a favourite campaign?

I don’t really have a favourite campaign.  I have fond memories of various campaigns over time.  That’s the wonderful thing about this archive; it’s a snapshot of any given point in time over the past three decades of what we as Canadians were concerning ourselves with be it politics, cellphones or beer.

So much of the creative work you and others at Pirate have produced over the years can be found in the archive. What insights do you think students and researchers could gain by using the collection?

The archive is a unique look at the history of Canadian consumer interest over the past three decades.  Anyone trying to determine “what’s next” is bound to glean valuable insight from the archive.  For those that are curious about how an ad evolves from a simple idea on paper to a full up million dollar story telling advertisement they need look no further – the archive includes detailed script notes, castings, voice takes, music and sound effects elements, complete pro-tools recording sessions, the works.

Why did Pirate decide to gift the archive to McMaster?

Many Universities expressed interest in the archive.  We chose McMaster because of the exceptional reputation of the archival department.  We are very proud of what we’ve produced and know that it’s in good hands.

*The Pirate Group Archive is located in the William Ready Division of Archives and Research Collections in the lower level of Mills Memorial Library. McMaster students, faculty and staff are welcome to explore the collection by visiting Mills Library, or by contacting

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