Election rally

This month the Renegade CMOs - Queen's prof Ken Wong and indie agency topper Tony Chapman - gird for election antics by challenging the ad industry to start its own campaign for Canada.

Tony: The pay’s not very good, the media is obsessive, countless hours are spent screaming at each other in Parliament, but given an election is around the corner, it’s time we do our civic duty. Let’s see if we can influence the political agenda as it relates to the business of doing business.

My pet peeve is what appears to be a lack of strategy from the government. From my vantage point, they dole out cash to win seats, versus setting Canada up to compete for the long-term. Our manufacturing sector has been decimated, tourism is in decline, our population is aging as social costs spiral upward and our largest trading partner is barreling into a massive downturn. Ken, where is our blueprint?

Ken: I liken it to companies that sacrifice longer-term brand development in favor of short-term promotions that are designed to plug leaks…and they justify it by claiming they have ‘more important things to do than worry about marketing.’ We all know what happens to those companies sooner or later. Still, people get the government they deserve, and if the primary objective of every government is to get re-elected and Canadians are prepared to have their votes bought with their own money, maybe we shouldn’t expect more.

Tony: Let’s look at Ontario. The federal and provincial governments have pledged over $700 million to support the automotive industry. There is no question as to the importance of this sector to our economy, but are we simply throwing good money after bad? Do we have any hope of building a competitive advantage, given that they are manufacturing cars in India for under $10,000? The more important question is, what kind of manufacturing can we build a sustainable advantage with?

Ken: I think the larger problem is that no one has articulated a blueprint, and Canadians have no sense of an alternative approach. Let’s face it, if I were unemployed with a family to house and feed, I might be a lot less patient. So it’s going to take a lot more than just a long-term economic plan.

Tony: There has never been a more urgent need to create a competitive strategy for Canada, one that identifies our niches, and a plan to exploit them. We need a plan that first assesses the needs and strengths of all stakeholders – labour, government and business – and one that benchmarks the best of the best around the world. We then need to identify the markets where we can compete, and what will be required from all three parties to ensure our success.

Our future livelihood will not be earned by trying to compete with low-cost-labour countries, but by capitalizing on local opportunities, like our resource and agricultural sector, and by embarking into bold new areas where our geographic location, education and skill sets can best be leveraged. It’s no easy task, but then neither is trying to manufacture a car in Canada for $8,000.

Ken: Tony, I see where you are going, and I agree with your economic analysis, but I’m not certain that the person on the street will understand the underlying issue or be able to conceive of something better. Lord knows we don’t need another task force or commission to solicit input. So here’s a novel idea: rather than spending countless dollars and effort lobbying the government for change, why doesn’t the advertising and marketing community take its vision to the people? Why don’t we make our case to the public for a new emphasis on technology and creative innovation? Why don’t we talk about the British experience, remind people how many people our industry employs and ask if they’d like to see those folks suffer the same fate as the auto workers (and have their tax dollars spent on a bailout)? Why don’t we encourage other industry associations to do the same, and generate some new clients in the process?

Ken Wong is a career academic at Queen’s School of Business who wedges consulting between classes and speaking gigs. Tony Chapman is an entrepreneur/career brand guru and founder of Toronto-based agency Capital C. Both are legends (according to the Marketing Hall of Fame).