`Outrageous’ approach

The decision by Warner-Lambert to create a distinct marketing campaign in Quebec for its Listerine antiseptic mouthwash was made in response to a survey that showed Quebecers' attitudes about oral hygiene differ significantly from those of other Canadians, says a senior...

The decision by Warner-Lambert to create a distinct marketing campaign in Quebec for its Listerine antiseptic mouthwash was made in response to a survey that showed Quebecers’ attitudes about oral hygiene differ significantly from those of other Canadians, says a senior marketer with the company.

Suresh Kumar, category manager with the consumer health care products manufacturer, says a survey conducted earlier this year of 1,500 respondents in Quebec, Ontario and western Canada showed Quebecers went to the dentist less frequently than other Canadians and were not as concerned about plaque build-up.

For example, 62% of Quebec respondents said they had visited a dentist within the past six months, as opposed to 75% of English-Canadians surveyed.

(This may be due to the fact that only one-third of Quebecers have dental coverage, as opposed to two-thirds in Ontario and the West, noted researcher Mark Lovell.)

As well, only 37% of Quebec respondents expressed serious concern about sore or bleeding gums, against 63% of respondents in Ontario and 62% in the West.

And only one-third of Quebec respondents saw plaque build-up as a problem, as opposed to nearly half the respondents in Ontario and the West.

This is a key point, because the reduction of plaque build-up is said by Warner-Lambert to be a principal benefit of using Listerine.

In many ways, Kumar says the survey findings confirmed what the company had assumed to be fact.

‘Basically, we were always of the opinion that they were not visiting dentists as often, nor were they as aware of dental hygiene,’ says Kumar, adding that Quebec residents account for less than 20% of Listerine sales in Canada, but constitute 23% of the population.

As well, he says shelf space devoted to oral hygiene products in general tends to be smaller in Quebec than in the rest of the country.

‘We are very clear in our mind that there are regional differences in Canada,’ Kumar says. ‘It comes down to the habits of people, not just language alone.’

Given these cultural differences, it made no sense to apply the same marketing strategy to Quebec as the rest of Canada, he says.

‘In English Canada, our commercials remind people of what the dentist said,’ says Kumar, who adds there is no point reinforcing a message that may not have been received in the first place.

‘In Quebec, it’s very different,’ he says.

To drive the oral hygiene message home, the company chose Quebec comedian and political satirist Daniel Lemire, someone Kumar says is not only well-known, but ‘extremely credible.

‘He can get away with saying the outrageous,’ he says.

‘We took a hard look at commercials that work in Quebec and the people of Quebec itself,’ Kumar says.

‘They don’t like to be inflicted with English-language campaigns,’ he says. ‘They are not appreciative of a French commercial that uses non-Quebec characters.’

The three tv commercials, which take a humorous approach to a potentially serious problem, rely largely on word play.

In one spot that went to air during the height of the referendum debate, Lemire’s trademark character Oncle Georges talks about the degree of importance Quebecers place on the tongue.

In the context of the commercial, the French word for ‘tongue’ also means ‘language.’

Kumar says the campaign, created by Montreal-based agency Blouin Coulombe Dube Thompson, is ‘very specific to Quebec,’ adding Lemire acted as co-writer of the scripts.

‘Typically, companies use English concepts and rework them in French,’ Kumar says. ‘In this instance, we decided it’s not going to work. The campaign is colloquial – it speaks to them directly.’

While he declined to say what kind of gains the company has made since launching the Quebec campaign in August, Kumar says the strategy has been successful.

‘Certainly we have been fed back in different forms, either through [A.C.] Nielsen or our own research, that the numbers have increased,’ he says.

‘The question is, has it increased for the entire category, or just the brand? At this time, it appears to be increasing just for the brand.’

The tv campaign has been followed up with mall displays that use interactive games to provide information about oral hygiene.

The mouthwash market in Canada is worth about $80 million.