Farzeen Foda 

& Sam Cumerlato

Senior News Editor & Silhouette Intern


The past 20 to 25 years in advertising history have seen some of the most popular trademark slogans. Many such popular advertisements of the past few decades originated in Canada through the work of Pirate Toronto, who donated an archive of over 50,000 radio and television advertisements to McMaster University’s Libraries.

The donated collection is “the single largest archive that we’ve recieved yet,” said Wade Wyckoff, Associate University Librarian for Collections. The archive consists of over 700 boxes and includes material from iconic brands such as Coca Cola and Pepsi, as well as preperatory materials from commercials like Becel’s “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter,” series. It also features celebrities such as Leslie Nelson, Bob Newhart, Ellen DeGeneres, John Cleese and Jay-Z.

The collection contains some “behind the scenes work,” of famous advertisements, said Wyckoff.

“The biggest reason we wanted to donate it, was that we wanted it to be used as a teaching tool and be preserved,” said Pirate Toronto co-founder Terry O’Reilly, who explained that he and his colleagues wanted to put their work toward the betterment of the next advertising generation.

“I would have killed to have something like this available when I was in university,” said O’Reilly.

Pirate Toronto was founded in 1990 and has since, undertaken numerous “milestone projects,” said O’Reilly, such as the first cell phone commercials in the late 80s as well as election campaigns and some of the first commercials that began addressing the AIDS epidemic which was silenced for sometime before public awareness on this issue surfaced in the mainstream media, he explained.

The donation of the archive to McMaster was put in place in 2011, after which, the University’s libraries have been working on organizing the archive for use by students and faculty. The collection is now ready for use, and is located on the lower level of Mills Library in the Division of Archives and Research Collections, explained Wyckoff. The first installment of the donation consisted of 50,000 radio and television commercials, followed by an additional 25,000, noted O’Reilly.  The collection contains television and radio advertisements from 1990 to 2007, but also includes some of O’Reilly’s earlier work dating as early as 1982.

The archive has been received with enthusiasm from McMaster faculty looking to integrate the resource into course work.

“This is exactly the kind of thing we need to be doing in our department,” said Communication Studies and Multimedia professor,  Philip Savage. “It’s a lovely sort of communications crossover resource,” he said.

While housing the enormous database of advertising history, McMaster students now have access to final commercials from the pivotal time period, as well as all of the component parts that comprise a final television or radio advertisement, including but not limited to original and edited scripts, auditions as well as all files and correspondence between those involved in the development of each commercial.

Upon his decision to donate the company’s historical collection, O’Reilly contacted numerous universities across the country. He was met with immense enthusiasm, but had three criteria for the donation: the university would have to express a strong desire for the collection, provide an explanation of how the archive would be used and a large enough space to house the collection. McMaster was able to demonstrate fulfillment of all three criteria.

“McMaster had a deep desire for the archive,” said O’Reilly, explaining that the University was clear in their goals to put these archives toward studies in Business, Psychology, Communication Studies and Multimedia, as well as English, among others.

The collection will allow students in a range of faculties and disciplines to “follow the development of commercials… and study how media and advertising has evolved,” said Wyckoff.

A next step for the archive is the digitalizing of the donation through an online project on behalf of The Canadian Advertising Museum, to build a web-based archive of the Canadian advertising industry.

“We wanted to preserve the works, rather than allow it to be lost in the sands of time,” said O’Reilly.

A formal reception was held at McMaster’s Ron Joyce Centre on Feb. 15, to celebrate the inauguration of the collection, where O’Reilly and his fellow colleagues discussed their thrilling experience creating what would become one of the greatest masterpieces in Canadian media history.


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