NAFTA not all gloom

Let's be blunt - the survival of Canada's design and brand identity industry is at risk.Ominously, there is a good chance that within five to eight years as many as 42% of packaged goods marketing operations in Canada will have moved...

Let’s be blunt – the survival of Canada’s design and brand identity industry is at risk.

Ominously, there is a good chance that within five to eight years as many as 42% of packaged goods marketing operations in Canada will have moved south to their u.s. head offices.

Consolidation of marketing by u.s. and multinational package foods marketers in head offices south of the border has already begun and will accelerate in the months ahead.

Reasons clear

The reasons are clear: the Canada-u.s. free trade agreement; nafta, the proposed trade pact between Canada, the u.s. and Mexico; and the restructuring of the global economy into geographic blocs.

Recognizing that the free trade agreements amount to standardized packaging regulations between the two countries, the multinational marketer’s final reason for a distinct Canadian package will disappear.

Global harmonization just makes sense. The multinational marketer will be presenting the same product identity everywhere in the world.

A gloomy picture? Perhaps, if we do nothing about it.

I contend it need not be so, if Canadian package designers move now to stake out their share of the multinational marketing dollar, and to secure their position with the remaining Canadian-owned and head office package goods marketers.

They will continue to need high-end creative talent and should be more inclined to support Canadian-owned and -operated firms.

First south

I suggest these Canadian marketers first look south, and then inside their own supermarkets.

They will usually discover the Canadian package is better than the u.s. equivalent. Do not lose sight of that. The big u.s. name design firms are good for the ego, but, ultimately, hard on the pocketbook.

However, we must begin thinking ‘North American’.

The North American free trade agreement, or nafta, presents a dynamic opportunity to sell our goods and services to a consumer marketplace of 350 million people.

Let us consider and act on our strengths.

Canadian designers and converters offer world-class products and services and can compete effectively in any marketplace. Our design talent is equal to, or greater than, u.s. talent.

Canadian package printing and color separation work is typically better than in the u.s. Our packaging printers are trained to deliver quality. Canadian marketers demand it. The design community expects it.

More direct

Canadians are more direct. Operating in a less political theatre, we tend to say exactly what we feel.

Whereas u.s. designers sometimes are more concerned about the opinions of senior management than those of consumers, they often abandon high ground solutions for more conservative approaches.

We are expert at dealing with multicultural packaging, and will find the move from handling two languages to three, as nafta will likely lead to, a relatively smooth transition.

Americans, on the other hand, brought up on the melting pot philosophy, will find it tough handling even two languages on a pack.

Where Canadians compete with u.s. firms, the Canadian-originated pack design will look cleaner and better balanced than the u.s. version.

Sensitive

Canadian designers are sensitive to cultural differences between Quebec and the rest of Canada and will easily understand, for instance, the Mexican marketer’s cultural and, hence, communications needs.

And then, Canadian package designers, converters and marketers lead in environmental initiatives as demonstrated by Procter & Gamble’s refillable Enviropaks and the Blue Box recycling program in some Ontario communities.

We can expect that different brand identity history and consumer brand expectation may make it hard to homogenize some brands throughout North America and may dictate the need for a unique Canadian package in some cases.

Often relocated

And remember that senior marketing management from Canadian head offices of the u.s. packaged goods marketers are often relocated and will establish, when they have moved to the u.s., a point of contact for the Canadian designer.

Canadian packaged foods marketers have a golden opportunity to become large fish in a shrinking sea, and to command the service and creative support they would expect under those circumstances.

Shipping their creative assignments south of the border will rarely get them the kind of service and attention they will command in this country.

It should not be long before u.s. packaged goods marketers discover the same thing and, when quality packs are called for, place their creative assignments north of the 49th parallel.

Thomas Pigeon is president of Toronto’s Thomas Pigeon Design Group Canada, strategic packaging design and brand image consultants.