Then and now: Tracking progress in Quebec

The attitude in Quebec is different, but is anything else? In the March 2, 1998 issue of Strategy, we approached four senior agency executives in Quebec and asked them 'Is the Quebec ad industry sick?' Now, three-and-a-half years later, Astrid Van Den Broek revisits those same four to find out what's changed.

Caroline Jarvis

Creative director

Publicis Montreal

Then

What’s missing, mostly, is courage. Because everybody’s worried about their jobs, marketers tend not to want to shake things up. Agencies need the courage of their convictions. We have to make fewer compromises.

Whenever we go to see the Cannes award winners, people come away saying, ‘They’re so brilliant! Why can’t we have advertising like that?’ Well, I’ll tell you why: It’s because you need to have the courage to get behind a concept that is pure and single-minded, and that may ruffle a few feathers.

Now

I don’t see any change. But I think the economy is affecting things. It’s the inverse of what should happen: When an economy is really good, clients take more chances. But if it’s not so good, like now, they should take chances because they can make an impact.

I don’t know if there’s complacency or fear, but I don’t see anybody pushing the boundaries. I adhere to what I said in the last article, which is that people are afraid. They’re afraid of losing their jobs.

We’re all accountable for change. It’s really important for everybody to do their absolute maximum, not to shy away from the responsibility of it. It’s easy to say, ‘Oh, it was research’s fault.’ But in the end, it’s as much the client’s responsibility as anybody else’s.

The greatest impetus for change is when [clients] feel that what they’re doing isn’t working anymore, and ultimately it means agencies will lose business. If it’s not working, clients tend to jump ship. That’s a heck of a catalyst for change.

Michel Ostiguy

President

Bos

Then

It’s true that when you see newspapers and TV in Quebec, or walk the streets and look at the billboards, you notice a lot of bad ads. But I’m in Toronto two days a week, and I see an equal number of bad ones there. When I go to New York once a month, I see even more bad ones, simply because there’s a larger quantity of advertising there.

I do agree that we are over-regulated, and that political correctness can impose constraints. Advertising must disturb a bit at times, and you can’t prevent a few people from being offended. But clients are very often anxious about these things.

Now

What I said then, I would repeat exactly the same. It’s still as difficult to make a good campaign as it was over three years ago. There are more bad campaigns than good ones. I was in Paris two weeks ago – saw the same problem. Good campaigns are a rare breed, but it’s been like this for a long time.

Quebec creative could be better. But so could New York’s, Toronto’s and London’s.

Over-regulation is a problem. But is it a problem in Toronto? When the publisher of Marketing was fired, was that censorship?

Paulette Arsenault

EVP, creative director

Palm Publicité Marketing

Then

The whole strategic process takes much too long. With the time it takes client services to get a briefing together, to nail the strategy – often, as creatives, we only have a couple of weeks to turn out a major campaign.

Does research kill ideas? If a client takes the conclusions of research at face value and doesn’t read between the lines, then you’re in trouble.

There’s no question that political correctness and over-emphasis on research can asphyxiate advertising. But I’d say that’s a North American problem, not something that’s particular to Quebec.

Now

The process is still a problem – not getting enough time to work the creative. Let’s say we get a national account. They’ve got a national budget that’s usually three times bigger than ours. And we’ve still got to come up with as good a campaign for Quebec, but with less money.

Also, we should get together as an industry and tell the [regulatory] committees to get their act together, because they’re working with rules that are a war behind. You see stuff coming out of Ontario, and wow, it’s more daring. But if we do the same thing here, we get 25 letters. We’ve got to educate the clients, the population and the regulatory bodies.

With research, the challenge is how do you test a campaign and keep it fresh. I don’t dislike research, but it can be dangerous. Sometimes when people have been in research too long, they tell you the answers before they ask [consumers the questions] – and nothing will change their minds. That’s frightening.

Jean-François Bouchard

Pompiste en chef

Diesel Marketing

Then

It’s not a question of creative talent – there’s some strong creative out there. The problem, as I see it, is that we’re not putting the sweat and intelligence into raising the standards of our discipline.

The kind of intellectual capital that big consulting firms have to offer their clients, I just don’t see that in our business. There’s a lack of industry commitment to the health of our discipline – to reading books, thinking, giving lectures, doing research, writing books. That’s what it’s all about.

Now

I referred to the fact that we have a serious lack of training, in Canada, but more specifically in Quebec. Since then, l’Association des agences de publicité du Québec, together with Ecole des hautes études commerciales de Montréal, has put together a second cycle degree [graduate program] in advertising.

So I now see a small market getting a clear sense of how to improve. We’ve also accepted that we’re in a smaller market and as an industry, more and more, people do not see that as an excuse [to create] anything less than world class output. I would like Quebec agencies to participate more in international award shows. That’s moving in the right direction too.

A couple of years back, there was a sense of frustration but I didn’t really see a thinking process that could take this marketplace to the next level. At this point we’re not yet at the stage of devising an action plan as an industry, but the right issues and challenges have been identified and the attitude is right to get there. I’m more optimistic about our future than I’ve ever been.