Burger King catering to Que. tastes

Businesses that enter the Quebec market with advertising creative or marketing strategies borrowed carelessly from national campaigns risk committing a dangerous faux pas.An inappropriate or incompetently translated campaign can do great damage to a brand in that province.An oversight or mistake...

Businesses that enter the Quebec market with advertising creative or marketing strategies borrowed carelessly from national campaigns risk committing a dangerous faux pas.

An inappropriate or incompetently translated campaign can do great damage to a brand in that province.

An oversight or mistake by a company from English-speaking Canada or the u.s. can leave consumers feeling alienated, resentful, and in no mood to buy.

Differences great

The differences in language and culture are greater than they may appear, says Esther Buchsbaum of Communications Meca in Montreal.

Communications Meca is the agency that, for a time, handled promotions and public relations for Burger King Canada after it decided four years ago to give the Quebec market the individual treatment it required.

‘[Burger King] realized that what worked in the rest of Canada didn’t necessarily work in Quebec,’ Buchsbaum says.

‘They knew they needed to get an agency that understood the Quebec culture, and that could create a promotion that would draw traffic,’ she says.

Drew Sansom, marketing director of Burger King Canada, says the chain was suffering in Quebec partly because it had relatively few restaurants in the province.

‘Our awareness levels were not very good,’ Sansom says.

‘Like a lot of big conglomerates, we had to utilize either u.s. creative, or Canadian English creative dubbed [into French,] and that kind of thing,’ he says.

‘It was not very successful.’

Sansom says Burger King decided to work with a Quebec-based agency so it could produce promotion and creative designed specifically for that market.


Meca chose to create promotions that capitalized on the particularly great importance of family in Quebec culture.

The result was the ‘Les bons Dimanches en famille’ campaign which translates into ‘Good Sundays with family.’

The promotion incorporated holidays and events that have special importance, or that exist only in Quebec.

‘The concept would stay the same all year round, but the themes would change monthly or seasonally,’ Buchsbaum says.

Quebecois events that Burger King capitalized on included what is commonly referred to as the construction holiday at the end of July when Buchsbaum says ‘everything shuts down,’ Saint Jean Baptiste Day, corn harvesting season, and the Tour des l’isles bicycle race.

During the maple syrup tapping season in early spring, Buchsbaum says the restaurants would run a ballot contest which would have as first prize a ‘cabane a sucre’ for the winner and 20 family members.

Lesser prizes included sugar cookies and other related products.

During gardening season, Burger King acknowledged the great popularity of that activity in Quebec by teaming up with a nursery and running a contest that offered plants and gardening tools as prizes.

Sweet tooth

Easter, a hugely popular holiday in Quebec, inspired chocolate bunny give-aways that particularly appealed to the Quebecois sweet tooth.

Corn harvesting time, symbolically important to a culture that remains strongly attached to its agricultural origins, was the impetus for a related trip contest, and decorative corn-cob giveaways.

At back-to-school time, Burger King conducted a draw for a $5,000 computer system.

Buchsbaum says the ‘Les bons Dimanche en famille’ theme was sometimes used two or three times per month, and always with local co-sponsors.

She says the promotions were generally quite simple because of cost constraints and their local nature.

‘We tended to use press material,’ Buchsbaum says.

In-store material

‘We didn’t do any traditional advertising per se, but we took advantage of our in-store [point-of-purchase] material: danglers and posters, counter cards, tray liners, coupons – mostly that kind of thing,’ she says.

According to Buchsbaum, the program was well-received.

Sansom says Burger King’s target market is not very different from that in other places, in that it is the same broad 18-49 category.

‘It’s the way we go about reaching the target group that’s a little different than in other parts of the country,’ he says.

But successful advertising in Quebec is not achieved by simply acknowledging distinctive events.

There is also a distinct consumer personality difference to contend with.

‘[The Quebecois] are more inclined to spend money on leisure products and travel, good wines and good movies,’ Buchsbaum says.

‘They are less inclined to get something like a security system,’ she says.

‘Like the Europeans, they know how to work hard and play hard, too. Quality of life is extremely important here.’

Taste for fast food

Sansom says the Quebecois interest in quality does not preclude a taste for fast food.

‘They like fast food, but the eating experience is a little different in Quebec,’ he says.

‘They take their time over it. They’re not as much into speed of service as English Canada. They want the ambiance to be a little nicer, and the food to be of good quality.

‘For us, it’s a good thing because we can [concentrate] on the fact that our food is flame-broiled and not fried, and you can have it `your way’ and things like that.’

The ambiance issue was addressed through the Bons Dimanches campaign with elaborate displays that, during the Tours des l’isles race, for example, included bicycles suspended from the ceiling.

Since Burger King began to consider Quebec worthy of a distinctive marketing approach, sales in its 38 restaurants have increased by close to 30%, according to Sansom.

‘Quebec is one of our targetted growth markets,’ he says. ‘There’s a lot of potential for us there, but I think we had to go back and lay the foundation for growth.’

(Burger King has since decided to centralize its public relations with its advertising agency Marketel/McCann-Erickson, which meant an amicable split with Meca, and, despite its success, the end of the Bons Dimanches campaign.)

Some bungled ads

In contrast to Burger King’s apparent success, there is a long list of companies that bungled their advertising in Quebec, including a u.s. frozen dessert company that angered an influential French radio host by neglecting to include French product information during its product launch.

Another time, promotional material for a financial institution from the Maritimes had to be pulled because of glaring grammatical errors.

‘Don’t take anything for granted,’ Buchsbaum says.

‘There’s no question that what flies in the rest of Canada will not necessarily fly here,’ she says. ‘Get some local consultation.

‘You only get one kick at the can.’