West buys a soft sell

In the last few years, there has been a lot of talk about standardization of advertising in the Canadian market based on the contention that differences between East and West are more a mattter of degree than direction.The focus, according to...

In the last few years, there has been a lot of talk about standardization of advertising in the Canadian market based on the contention that differences between East and West are more a mattter of degree than direction.

The focus, according to these theorists, should be on the similarities of consumers rather than their differences.

For advertisers, the benefits of standardization are many: cost reductions in planning and control; the opportunity to build a national brand and company image; simpler co-ordination and control; and national exploitation of good ideas.

Marketing experts say the world is becoming a common marketplace in which people – no matter where they live – want the same products and lifestyles.

Undoubtably, this has caused nothing but delight to American marketers because, most often, those products and lifestyles originate in the u.s.

Consumers across Canada feast on McDonald’s hamburgers, shop with an American Express card and wear Calvin Klein clothes.

But nationalization of an advertising strategy is one of the most dangerous traps to fall into, because it does not necessarily follow that marketing strategy, let alone advertising, will work nationally.

This is particularly so for Quebec and the Maritimes, where consumers are searching for their cultural roots.

Because cultural values, norms and characteristics are deeply imbedded in advertising, it frequently appeals in varying degrees to certain parts of the country.

It could be argued that the West is more amenable to the soft sell, which emphasizes mood or atmosphere, rather than the features of a product.

For example, McDonald’s successfully uses slice-of-life humor to create an alliance with the consumer. The company’s advertising makes you smile every time you see it, because it is warm and human.

Remember the young father having breakfast with his newborn daughter? Or the couple suddenly transported to a Mexican fiesta after biting into a fajita? The tone in these ads is low key, and the communication style is more suggestive than it is direct.

It seems to me that this is indicative of the primary difference between the East and the West.


As an agency based in Vancouver, our lifestyle has a tremendous impact on the way we do business.

Our relationship with clients and suppliers is not based on size, but focusses rather on good service and establishing some personal connection with them to help us understand their needs better.

There may be more of everything in the East, but here, quality makes up for quantity.

Ultimately, though, you cannot simply divide a country on the basis of demographics.

I believe that if you look at typical advertising – whether print or electronic – from Eastern and Western provinces, it is clear the broad trends across the country are much the same and that there is nothing more than minor cultural differences.

You could argue that the East does not take as many risks as those of us in the West, or that the West is less concerned with the bottom line and more interested in the quality of the work.

You could even say that one part of the country is more aggressive in its approach to advertising than another, or tends to rely more on humor or sex or politics.

But are any of these differences true, or are they merely based on regional submarkets, rather than on broader trends that can be clearly identified as Eastern or Western?

Everyone that I spoke with, including those in our media, creative and research departments, agrees there is no distinctly Western Canadian approach to creating advertising or buying media time.

The same factors hold true for a Western-based client or a national account.

Approach to clients

To reiterate – and it is certainly true at Palmer Jarvis Advertising, where our uniqueness does not stem from our being Canadian-owned or Western-based – the West stands apart because the approach we take to each client is unique and specific to them.

We are strongly dedicated to providing clients with service that goes above and beyond the norm, and commits us to them in a partnership.

Our business is largely the business of building relationships. The personal nature of our agency-client relationship means we share the same risks our clients do. We share a campaign’s success with them as well as the occasional failure.

The common challenge for Eastern and Western agencies in this age of information overload is to find ways to get people’s attention.

Canada may only be divided intellectually because some of us perceive it that way, not because there are significant differences among its population.

Frank Palmer is chairman and chief executive officer of Palmer Jarvis Advertising in Vancouver.