Operation infiltration

'To date we have made significant inroads into the large agency groups. We felt it was time to strike at the creative heart of u.s. advertising.'This confession from a well-informed Canadian source indicated a strategy for business survival too clever to...

‘To date we have made significant inroads into the large agency groups. We felt it was time to strike at the creative heart of u.s. advertising.’

This confession from a well-informed Canadian source indicated a strategy for business survival too clever to have originated at the Institute of Canadian Advertising, too shocking to be told (well, almost.)

Consider the facts.

The heads of some of the biggest ad agency conglomerates: Lintas, Young & Rubicam, bbdo have come from Canada.

Most recently, Hal Riney and Partners could not find a single person in the u.s. (including Hawaii and Alaska) to fill the top job, so they turned to Tony Houghton in Canada.

Coincidence?

We all mournfully acknowledge the slow decline of marketing and advertising originating in Canada. We see our jobs waning like Brian Mulroney’s re-election hopes.

Around the water cooler we wail, ‘What can we do? The u.s. is bigger, richer, more aggressive. It is inevitable, we are becoming the 51st state. All the real decisions are made down South.’

These are the cries of Canadian marketers as they are tread upon by the relentless march of globalization. Yet, somewhere, someone is doing something about it.

The first defence in the face of free trade and economies of scale was the passive ‘three Cs’ of Canadian economic foreign policy: compromise, conciliation and crying.

This failed to counter the forces of greed. As more Canadian agencies were bought and marketing departments moved to midwestern towns with funny names, a plan was hatched, code-named: ‘Operation Infiltration.’

Put crudely, send them our ceos, teach the barbaric American the three Cs. If that does not slow them down, add ‘caution’.

Essentially, make them thoroughly Canadian.

Then they would have to be polite, friendly and respectful of the Distinct Society up North.

Of course, the naysayers counter with their own ‘brain-drain’ theories.

‘Canadians make better global managers because they have an international perspective: Or, ‘Canadians learn how to stretch a marketing dollar. You can’t just throw money at a problem up here.’

Are these really more probable? From a market the size of California?

I hear you demanding to know who is steering this ‘rescue ship; who is masterminding these international placements? No one knows for sure. It is too co-operative and effective to be the ica.

The Print Measurement Bureau is too busy fielding yet another landmark study.

There is one strong clue though. Whenever the multinationals start talking about global brands and creative pools and centralized decision-making, they are always quick to acknowledge the distinctiveness of Quebec.

And who else but the uda is militant enough to pull it off?

Proof of the plan’s existence is its success. Sure the occasional marketing department slips under the 49th parallel, but for the most part we are surviving well.

We may be adding a ‘Best U.S. Adaptation’ category to the awards shows, but we are significantly changing some of those spots.

Head offices are increasingly aware that you cannot book a 9 a.m. in Toronto and a 1 p.m. in Vancouver.

In fact, they are probably eager to discuss the fairness of intra-company transfer of funds. This enlightenment is a direct result of Canadian experience. This does not happen in the manufacturing sector.

A slow steady infiltration of u.s. advertising and marketing is the only way to bring them to our level. It is the stone in our slingshot, for if that is not going to save our jobs, what will?

The author is a marketing executive writing under the pseudonym Mark Harries. His satirical look at agency life will appear from time to time in Strategy.