The other distinct society?

East is east and west is west, in Canada as elsewhere. But saying 'never the twain shall meet' is probably over-egging the pudding, according to both a sampling of marketing professionals and a cluster of statistics from the most recent census.
There are differences between Easterners and Westerners in Canada, of course, but there are more similarities. The practical upshot? A carefully crafted national campaign can appeal equally to Calgarians and Torontonians

East is east and west is west, in Canada as elsewhere. But saying ‘never the twain shall meet’ is probably over-egging the pudding, according to both a sampling of marketing professionals and a cluster of statistics from the most recent census.

There are differences between Easterners and Westerners in Canada, of course, but there are more similarities. The practical upshot? A carefully crafted national campaign can appeal equally to Calgarians and Torontonians, but if you have the ability to tweak campaigns to appeal to local humour and touchpoints, you can be rewarded with greater loyalty.

Starting with the differences, it’s useful to note that the average household income in Ontario is about $3,000 more than in British Columbia and Alberta. Yet Calgarians spend approximately $600 more on recreation and $500 more on alcohol and tobacco annually than Torontonians. Conversely, Torontonians spend more on food, clothing and personal care than their western counterparts, but not much more.

As for television consumption, Paul Robinson, communications manager of Toronto-based ACNielsen, says ‘news and hockey do a bit better in Vancouver than in Toronto.’ But Ron Bremner, VP of television at Toronto-based BBM Bureau of Broadcast Measurement, says (except for Quebec) the 10 most-watched TV series are virtually identical across the country. (For more on differences in consumer behaviour, see page 21.)

So what does this mean for


Four years after relocating from Toronto, Jeff Lewis, VP and creative director for Grey Worldwide’s Vancouver office, is convinced that geographic idiosyncrasies and perceptions in this country ‘don’t differ enough to demand different approaches [regionally]. We all draw from the same universal themes and spectrum of emotions.’

Mario Amantea, president of Calgary’s Parallel Strategies marketing and communications agency, agrees.

‘When you do build in differences, it should be who you target, not necessarily where they’re located on the map,’ he explains. ‘For our mutual fund clients, for example, we would address the needs of a financial planner on [Toronto's] Bay Street in similar fashion to that same kind of professional in Lethbridge, Alta. The same applies if we’re talking to farmers in Biggar, Sask. and Guelph, Ont. because their concerns are similar.’

Another believer in taking a unified approach regardless of geography is Richard Hadden, president and creative director at Cossette Communication-Marketing, Vancouver.

‘You cannot reshape your brand to try and artificially suit a separate audience [because] people see right through it so it eats away at your credibility,’ he explains, adding that ‘you can come off as superficial, arrogant and manipulative.’

A campaign Cossette launched this month to promote Bell Mobility’s expansion into Western Canada may seem like a contradiction to this point, but Hadden says it isn’t. The multi-media advertising depicts people mountain biking, hiking and snowboarding amid recognizably western landscapes. The accompanying copy features the word ‘go’ alongside the alternate taglines: ‘Life without a leash;’ and ‘Cities have limits. You don’t.’ The radio copy is fine-tuned to reference Banff in the Calgary market, Jasper in Edmonton and Whistler in Vancouver.

Hadden says this launch campaign ‘is not a redefinition of Bell Mobility’s products by any stretch and is completely in line with the [client's] national message and national position. We just tried to skew it toward a specific regional sensitivity.’

In fact, after defending the proposition that consumers are consumers wherever they happen to live in Canada, all three men cited exceptions to the rule. At the top of their list of effective exploitations of regional differences is humour.

Prefacing his favourite example with the disclaimer ‘I’m from Toronto and I love Toronto but it’s delicious to take a shot at it,’ Lewis describes Grey’s recent campaign for Okanagan Spring Brewery.

The object was to reassure the microbrewery’s regional fans that, while the product had grown and evolved, it hadn’t gotten too big for its niche. So the Grey team came up with a mouse-bites-elephant message Lewis says ‘people just loved.’

‘Here at Okanagan Spring Brewery,’ reads the radio copy, ‘we’d like to say sorry to everyone back East. Sorry you’ve got black flies and not bald eagles. Sorry you’ve got a tower and not towering mountains. But most of all, we’re sorry that, although you may be thirsty for an all-natural beer like ours, it’s still not available in Toronto.’

The creative for another B.C. beer pulled off a similar coup in Hadden’s estimation. ‘Kokanee tapped into almost a cartoon version of [laid-back] life in the west, and they played the humour to the hilt.’

Lisa Francilia, creativre director at Vancouver’s Bryant, Fulton & Shee, worked on that Kokanee campaign. She agrees with Hadden’s perspective.

‘Overall, if you’ve got a strong

campaign, it should work across all markets,’ Francilia cautions. ‘But our Kokanee campaign, which was clearly tongue-in-cheek, worked the same way that [a recent ad] for the CFL did. They used taunting stereotypes such as a B.C. tree-hugging kind of guy and a not-too-bright, let’s-fight Saskatchewan guy as a way to get fans excited about the football season.’

Another exception to uniformity in messaging cited by both Francilia and Hadden is the presence of a large ethnic community, such as Vancouver’s substantial Asian population.

With a client such as Hongkong Bank of Canada (now HSBC Bank Canada), Francilia says her agency ‘is always sensitive to the possibility that something might not translate well or may offend superstitions about colours or numbers.’

Hadden says Cossette Vancouver has ‘an Asian marketing group’ to handle Pacific Rim opportunities. ‘But whenever you do have separate versions of a campaign, you have to be consistent in both languages, not contradictory, so people don’t feel they’re being told two different things in terms of brand character.’

Although they appear to hold a minority opinion, some industry insiders disagree with Hadden and the others quoted above about treating all English-speaking Canadians alike.

Marc Stoiber migrated from west to east and is now VP and executive creative director at Grey Worldwide’s Toronto office.

‘I still remember being in Calgary when the National Energy Policy came out [in 1980]. The attitude was that the East was just raping and pillaging.’

Reminded of the infamous Alberta slogan ‘Let the eastern bastards freeze in the dark,’ Stoiber says he believes that feeling has largely subsided. But what remains in the West, he says, ‘especially in the prairies, is a strong independent streak. The last thing those markets want is to feel that someone from the big cities is pushing something down their throats.

‘Also,’ Stoiber continues, ‘on the West Coast, because of shared geography, there’s more of a north-south than an east-west mentality.’ Hence the logic behind Grey’s handling of the Starbucks account, not only in B.C. but also in Washington state, Oregon and Colorado.

Randy Stein, creative director at Palmer Jarvis DDB, Vancouver, is an ex-Torontonian whose perspective changed when he moved west five years ago.

‘I used to think the notion of eastern bias in advertising and in the

news media was just baloney. But I noticed almost right away how much

advertising is created in Toronto without thinking about the western viewpoint or even about our climate. It’s not that it never snows here, but those commercials that show people trudging through snow drifts – and then trying to say it’s us – it just doesn’t work.’

Steve Bottoms, managing partner at Calgary’s Watermark Advertising, shares Stoiber and Stein’s point of view.

‘Just as all of Eastern Canada is not one market, neither is Western Canada,’ Bottoms explains. ‘Even Edmonton and Calgary manifest themselves differently in consumer behaviour. The Edmontonian is a far more utilitarian purchaser, buying closer to need and price and function [than to want]. The Calgarian buys from a more worldly or sophisticated or aspirational perspective generally. But in consumption of the arts, it’s almost the reverse.’

One aspect of marketing to western Canadians that both the yea and the nay camps agree on is the wisdom of exploiting regional assets such as natural beauty and local traditions.

A prime example of the latter, says Watermark’s Bottoms, is the annual Calgary Stampede, ‘which is really the only time of the year when you can let your hair down and be silly and frivolous.’ Case in point, the hilarious outdoor campaigns aimed at cowboy wannabes his agency executes locally for Mark’s Work Wearhouse.

For PJDDB’s Stein, a campaign this summer for the Vancouver Aquarium afforded the opportunity to pitch its unique offerings throughout the lower B.C. mainland.

When it comes to the question of whether an agency needs a local office to successfully market to a local audience, well, it depends on who you ask. Those based in the West feel they can serve the whole country from their home base, but those based in Toronto often do set up local operations to serve the West.

Bottoms, based in Calgary, is in the former camp. ‘The geography that used to bind us to just being regional players no longer exists, both for the big shops and small, up-and-coming boutiques,’ he says. ‘We’re all doing work across the country and sometimes around the world.’

Calgary-based Parallel’s Amantea agrees. ‘Calgary has more head offices than any Canadian city except Toronto, which contributes to a great client base and means we’re drawing a lot of creative talent to our area. Not only that, but with modern communications channels like teleconferencing, video conferencing and e-mail – which allows clients to view the creative as it’s developed – it’s no longer absolutely necessary [to have local offices].’

But Cossette Vancouver’s Hadden doesn’t believe that newfangled technology can take the place of actual face time. ‘Being near your clients and their targets is absolutely key to gaining better and more timely understanding of the relevant motivations, issues and sensitivities.’

Speaking of such regional sensitivities prompts Hadden to refine his earlier comment about the wisdom of preserving uniformity in messaging throughout Canada.

‘Sometimes you address those differences and sometimes you don’t. It depends on what product or service you’re advertising and whether that benefit ties into any sense of uniqueness. When you know what your brand character and your audience character are, and you know the behavioural differences that result from those variances, you’re better armed to talk to consumers effectively.’