Pepsi in Quebec: deep roots

It may not sound as homegrown as Cirque du Soleil or St. Hubert, but Quebecers feel they have an ownership stake in Pepsi.

It may not sound as homegrown as Cirque du Soleil or St. Hubert, but Quebecers feel they have an ownership stake in Pepsi. After all, Quebec is where it all began for Pepsi in this country back in 1934 and where, years later, the company created the advertising magic that became a textbook case for Pepsi marketers around the world.
The iconic, award-winning Claude Meunier campaign began its gestation in 1984 when Pepsi came to realize that the distinctiveness of Quebec ran deeper than language.
Apart from the “Pepsi Challenge” in 1975, which featured pop singer René Simard, ads in Quebec had always been French-language adaptations of the work running in the U.S. and English Canada.
But by the early 1980s, while Pepsi was on equal footing with Coca-Cola across English Canada, market share in Quebec was stalled about 20 points below Coke. The “Choice of a New Generation” campaign wasn’t resonating with Quebecers.
To fix that, Pepsi became the first major multinational company to ever commit to Quebec-only advertising. 
It was up to the J. Walter Thompson agency in Quebec, Blouin Coulombe Dube Thompson, to come up with a campaign that was relevant to Quebec consumers. Robert Thibeaudeau, who was the agency’s VP/CD, says the team chose Claude Meunier to star in Pepsi commercials because he was well-known as half of the beloved comedy duo Ding et Dong, and his absurd sense of humour had huge appeal in the province.
In the ads, Meunier plays a stereotypical Quebecois character that will do anything to get his Pepsi. One of his most popular roles is that of a hockey player, but over the years he has also been hockey fan Ti-Guy Le Buf, disco character Van Alain and zany fisherman Sylvain Saguenay.
“When we started the campaign Coke had the advantage, but with the advertising, we reversed that trend and made Pepsi number one,” says Thibeaudeau.
The highlight of working on the Pepsi business for Thibeaudeau was not only the campaign’s success, but also having a client accept – for the first time – that advertising had to be unique and culturally relevant to be effective in Quebec.
Sylvain Charbonneau, VP/GM of the Quebec Pepsi Bottling Group, PepsiCo Canada’s marketing and production operation in the province, says that as well as being one of the most successful efforts, the Claude Meunier work is also one of the longest running campaigns in Canada and for PepsiCo worldwide. From the launch in 1985 to 2002, Meunier was the spokesperson for Pepsi. He switched to Diet Pepsi in 2003 and has been lending his magic to that brand ever since.
According to Thibeaudeau, there’s been no wear-out factor – quite the reverse. “Many people said they didn’t like advertising on TV,” explains Thibeaudeau, “They were bothered by it. That never happened with the Meunier campaign. They kept asking for more.”
The advertising was not only instrumental in making Pepsi the dominant cola in the province, but has also been credited with keeping it number one to this day. The enduring campaign won CASSIES Best of Show in 1993 and the Regional Success award in 2005. As per Charbonneau: “Ask people why Pepsi is so strong in Quebec and they’ll say it’s about Claude Meunier, but it’s also about taste. Pepsi almost belongs to Quebecers now. It’s almost a love story.”
Pepsi’s 2009 advertising across Canada focused on the refreshed logo and the “Joy It Forward” tagline, but in Quebec it also talked about Pepsi’s history in the province and thanked Quebecers for their many years of loyalty.
“With the 75th anniversary advertising, we referred to June 12, 1934 and the real name of our first employee 75 years ago. That person retired about 15 to 20 years ago – but his son and grandson also work for us,” says Charbonneau.
Longevity is something of a theme for Pepsi in Quebec. Charbonneau has been with the company for more than 20 years, but the careers of many employees have spanned even longer (two industrious staffers clocked 52 years apiece).
“We always say our blood is blue,” Charbonneau adds. “The difference here is we can see where we come from and where we are today.”
In April, Quebec takes on the same “Pepsi Refresh Project” campaign as the rest of the country, but once again will make it uniquely its own. The very nature of the “Refresh” umbrella effort is community-based, so will work well in a province where Pepsi has built strong cultural bonds.
“Kudos to Pepsi,” Charbonneau concludes. “It would have been easy last year, with the huge recession we had, to use the same advertising in Quebec as elsewhere, but again, the Pepsi marketing people maintained the focus. They are very sensitive to this market.”

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Timeline – Pepsi in Canada: the first 75 years

The Cola Wars – the Cherry Pepsi coup