Canadians a skeptical audience

Goody GernerPresidentGenerations Research, TorontoCanadians are much more skeptical, much more cynical, much more negative about advertisers, about institutions.They are very suspicious. They tend to be less open to creativity, in a sense. They want the facts. They want to be told...

Goody Gerner


Generations Research, Toronto

Canadians are much more skeptical, much more cynical, much more negative about advertisers, about institutions.

They are very suspicious. They tend to be less open to creativity, in a sense. They want the facts. They want to be told why a product or service is of benefit to them, rather than merely be entertained.


It’s because of the economy, plain and simple. Even if people haven’t lost their jobs, they are afraid of losing their jobs. They don’t feel protected and cared for any more, so they don’t trust the way they did.

A lot of advertisers have become more focussed in communicating a very clear product benefit than in the past. Probably there is less image advertising going on, and more factual advertising. Less emotional and more rational advertising.

I’ve been testing television commercials for 15 years. I’m hearing a lot more that commercials remind them of previous commercials. That things are unoriginal, that they are somewhat more pedestrian and mundane.

Partly, I think what has happened is that so many products are at parity now with their competition, that it’s difficult to come up with a unique benefit, so agencies have instead tried to push image more than substance, but this is the wrong economy, the wrong climate in which to do that.

Consumers are open to creativity, but only when it doesn’t preclude a concrete rational benefit as well.

We have a very sophisticated viewing audience because of all the fragmentation, but we haven’t really offered them very different sorts of messages.

To give you an example, if I probe for a main message, people will play back the main message, but they will say, `They always say things like that, or, `Everyone says that’, that kind of thing, with the implication being that it’s not true. The consumer has always been skeptical, but there is certainly more of that around today.

Talk to consumer

The obvious suggestion I would make as a researcher is to talk to the consumer to understand what is going on in their heads these days, because it has changed and it continues to change.

The other advice I would offer is to go beyond the traditional 18-49 target market. First of all, that is only a proportion of the world and Canadians are getting older. A lot of my clients tend to ignore the 50+ market, or assume they are a homogeneous group and that’s just not true.

The other obvious thing is to pay a lot more attention to niche marketing, because it is a fragmented society, not only in terms of age and traditional demographics, but also by ethnicity.

And by that, I don’t mean advertise in a number of other languages, because I have done research that suggests that, in most cases, that is probably not necessary.

Cultural differences

Most new Canadians within two years speak enough English and certainly watch English media, except the older ones. But I mean understand their cultures better and the differences between them and how they perceive the different categories.

People come to different categories with such different perceptions. What is meaningful to one group is totally irrelevant to others. People have different emotional investments in categories based on their cultural differences.

Cooking oil is a perfect example. To Mediterranean groups, cooking oil may be tied up in emotional feelings of family, celebrations and warmth, whereas other cultural groups, wasps, for example, wouldn’t have any of those sorts of associations, because their celebration meals don’t involve cooking oil very much.

If I could offer advertisers my advice, certainly I would emphasize the changing mood of the consumer and the need to provide a clear and concrete benefit in a realistic, believable manner, and, depending on the category, gear the benefit to some sort of clear and real savings of some sort. The savings don’t have to be monetary.

Everything I am saying, I have been saying for 15 years, but it’s more true now. Give them a reason to buy, but give them a reason to buy that fits with their current psyche.