Who am I, Canadian?

Strategy asked two industry experts to share their insights into two often misunderstood demos: men and women. Marketing to Canadian men in the new millennium means defining who they are, not who they aren’t, says Unilever Canada marketing director.

As the dying strains of ‘I Am. Canadian’ rolled out following the brief (five-week) initial media run of Molson Canadian’s 2000 ‘Rant’ ad, a funny thing happened.
The business results for English Canada’s leading lager, backed by what has come to be regarded as the one of the best Canadian (the country) commercials in the last decade, began to decline.
Now, I don’t mean that they levelled off or saw some slight blips. I’m talking about falling off the cliff, high single- and double-digit volume declines every month, every year.
Why? How did the icon of Canadian maleness, supported by great creative, suddenly die? While price wars and changing consumer tastes play a role, the real answer lies in the difficulty and challenge of defining The Canadian Male in the new millennium.
In a 2006 census, Statistics Canada defined the Canadian Male aged 20-to-55 as one of the largest cohort groups – approximately seven million strong or roughly 23% of the total population.
Yet this group, large, prominent and easy to find demographically, has become increasingly difficult to define. And the reason is that the target group themselves aren’t always clear on who they are.
It used to be so easy. The ‘greatest generation’ – men of the 1920s and ’30s who preceded this post-war to late ’80s cohort – worked, took care of fixing things in the house and opened doors for women. Men did not have or show emotion. Canada was a proud, hockey- and resource-rich nation full of leftist-liberal, cold-weather loving, strong beer-swilling, gracious, polite, peacekeeping global citizens.
It was clear, the roles were defined. Men were the opposite of women. Canadians were the opposite of Americans.
But in recent years, Canadian men began to feel less and less comfortable defining themselves as ‘non-Americans.’ Note: in one of the last iterations of the ‘I am. Canadian’ campaign, an ad called ‘Snap my fingers,’ the Canadian hero asked ‘Why don’t I snap my fingers to get the bartender’s attention?’ Even though there was no specific mention that snapping fingers was an American reference (versus just a rude thing to do), an overwhelming number of consumers in testing had become so familiar with defining Canadians and Americans as foils that they referred to the guy snapping his fingers in the ad as ‘the American guy.’

The maleness is a whole other, related issue. It’s not just a Canadian thing – defining who and what the identification and role of a man in today’s society has become the stuff of endless discussion, talk shows, self-help books and sociological analysis. Is the man a Caveman, the brute whose natural instinct is to be aggressive, non-verbally communicative, sloppy and mechanical? Or is he the SNAG, the sensitive new-age guy who nurses his baby with an artificial breast, talks openly about his feelings and (gasp) even, on occasion, cries? The messages are confusing.
According to research chartered by Unilever’s Dove brand, in anticipation of their launch of Dove Men+Care, one of the biggest hurdles men face is reconciling their real selves with the portrayal of a ‘real man’ in the media. In fact, almost three quarters of men globally (and 80% of men in Canada) believe men are stereotyped in advertising, and 67% of men (71% in Canada) find it difficult to relate to men their age in advertising.
In an effort to move beyond this, certain brands are attempting to redefine themselves in a more positive, dynamic
and active way.
Sharon MacLeod, Unilever Canada’s marketing director for Personal Wash, says ‘the Dove Men+Care campaign is boldly raising these questions about what a ‘real man’ is. The campaign is about holding up a mirror to men that asks what a real man looks like and how a real man behaves. It’s not about being power hungry, a sports star or a ladies man; it’s about being comfortable in your own skin.’
The answer for Molson Canadian may have come too late. Following years of lost strategies, Molson and Zig developed the ‘Canadian Code,’ a campaign that appeared to resonate well with Canadian men by being values-focused rather than stereotypical.
But that still begs the question, how did English Canada’s favourite beer lose its way? Maybe because it was following a target that had lost theirs.

Michael Shekter is currently marketing director for Unilever Canada’s ice cream brands, and for four-and-a-half years he was director of marketing for Molson Canadian. He’s also held marketing gigs at P&G, Nabisco and Maple Leaf Foods. He can be reached at mshekter@sympatico.ca.