Try humour

In TV, funny works. But hilarious has catapulted Quebec pharmacy Familiprix, from virtually known - with just 19% brand recognition three years ago - to one of the best-loved companies in the province, according to a recent Leger Marketing survey.

In TV, funny works. But hilarious has catapulted Quebec pharmacy Familiprix, from virtually known – with just 19% brand recognition three years ago – to one of the best-loved companies in the province, according to a recent Leger Marketing survey.

That’s certainly a far cry from 2002 when the drugstore brand had settled into a reputation as being a rural, neighbourhood chain, languishing in fourth place behind the bigger and better-known Jean Coutu, Uniprix and Pharmaprix. ‘Our pharmacists were happy to see service-oriented [marketing] but it didn’t strike consumers,’ says André Rhéaume, Familiprix’s VP marketing.

Then ‘Ah! Ha!’ struck. A series of pithy

15-second spots, brilliantly created by Jean-Francois Bernier of Alfred Communications (formerly of BOS), used humour and every day situations to break through the very traditional drugstore marketing of the time. ‘It was a dead category before,’ says Bernier.

Twenty-four spots later, in addition to impressive brand recognition, Familiprix has earned an armful of shiny marketing awards, including silver at Cannes for the campaign in 2003. Jean Coutu continues to dominate the Quebec market, accounting for over 50% of its stores, but the second-place position is increasingly contested among the other three chains. Better still, the Familiprix brand has expanded its consumer base and now resonates with a younger, more urban demographic.

‘Adding humour gave a young image to a rather traditional brand,’ says Rhéaume. Now, the chain has 210 stores – about 80 of which are in the Montreal area – most opening since the ads started in 2002.

Bernier says these executions have worked particularly well because Quebecers relate to the situations and locales used in the spots as well as to the recognizable face of actor Sylvain Marcel who has played the pharmacist in all the ads, and who, Bernier marvels, always manages to deliver the same line (‘Ah! Ha!’) in uniquely different ways. Good casting is therefore imperative, he says, for companies hoping to reach Quebecers.

‘Make sure you use people that French-Canadians can relate to.’ And forgo dubbing and direct translations that may not convey humour or the message effectively. Those are the easiest ways to kill a great idea in

Quebec, he says.

Today, the ‘drug-store humour’ strategy seems to be almost par for the course in Quebec. In addition to the Familiprix series, which show no signs of fatigue, Jean Coutu has tapped into the approach, launching its own series of comic TV fare in 2004.

Still, Familiprix continues to ride high. Rhéaume says the chain is now opening more locations with a focus, for the first time, on larger stores. They’ll also continue to publish their flyers – about 1.2 million each week – which not only highlight products, but quite uniquely, include actual articles with tips for good health.