Canadian Tire crowdsources content

The user-generated content play banks on the brand taking a back seat.
Canadian Tire TFLIC still_2

This week, strategy is rolling out the second article of a series looking at how brands are evolving their long-term branded content plays. Be sure to check out last week’s story behind Interac’s move into podcasting here. 

This story originally appeared in the March/April 2019 issue of Strategy.

A slow and steady pace wins the content race.

Now in its fifth year, Canadian Tire’s long-running “Tested for Life in Canada” platform was originally conceived as a small-scale content program. It has since morphed into a self-sustaining operation that currently informs both its marketing and the merchandising of products on shelf as it amps up efforts to be more authentic.

Today, the content-driven platform boasts 75,000 Canadians putting more than 10,000 products to the test. It’s a far cry from the original panel of 40 consumers who helped create a mere 80 videos when the program launched in 2015.

“Tested” launched on the insight that if Canadians were going to truly believe a product review, then the brand had to take itself out of the mix, says Eva Salem, VP marketing at the retailer.

During the program’s first year, the brand sent its panel of reviewers a bevy of products, along with a team from production company Notch to help shoot and edit the videos. The decision to be involved in the filming process wasn’t born out of a desire to direct the content, says Salem, but rather a desire for quality control.

However, as the program’s popularity grew, so too did the need to create a scalable solution, she says. The retailer and Notch created a “Tested”-by-numbers template for the expanding consumer panel to use when filming product reviews. Canadian Tire also got better at targeting its products to the right reviewers, sending tools to DIYers, or gardening goods to green thumbs.

The shift to be less hands-on allowed the brand to flood its social and owned channels with the user-generated content. And with more products being reviewed, the retailer expanded the program into different channels.

“It was never meant to be just a marketing platform,” says Salem. “But the idea of leveraging it in our consumer-facing touchpoints became critical to its success.”

In 2016, the brand rolled out the red “Tested” badge across flyers and POS materials. Salespeople were trained on what products had been tested online so they could make recommendations in store. On Canadian Tire’s website, product approval badges linked through to video reviews. And because the company allocates marketing spend to positively reviewed products, they tend to perform better than the non-reviewed SKUs (selling 18% more products than those with no review in 2017), says Salem.

Going even further, when products are negatively reviewed, the brand works with the manufacturer to address the issue, says Salem, adding that if there’s no resolution, the merchandise can be delisted.

By focusing on products that receive positive reviews, the brand has seen metrics rise year-over-year. Since “Tested” first launched, trust in the brand has increased 9%, while quality perception rose 19%.

But in 2017, amid a host of negative press over the validity of consumer reviews (in recent years, some upstart brands have been caught paying for positive ratings), Canadian Tire undertook a survey of consumers to determine whether “Tested” still provides value.

The short answer is yes, says Salem. Canadians not only want unbiased and authentic reviews, they also want to leave their own personal audit of a product. Using that insight, the brand has begun to put its testers at the fore.

While the “Tested” review videos always featured real consumers, the supporting TV and online ads from Taxi typically featured the brand’s spokesman putting the products through over-the-top tests. “[The idea was] if the product can survive this kind of test, it surely can survive your daily life,” Salem says.

But with more focus on authenticity, its latest marketing campaign now includes real-life testers with their star ratings and reviews peppered in. And this year, the digital component features only testers and no spokesman, notes Salem.

“We’re really leaning into the fact that we’ve given people this voice – and it’s their voice, not ours.”

Correction: The original story in print reported that Canadians had posted 75,000 videos, when in fact that number is how many Canadians have reviewed the retailer’s products to date. Strategy regrets the error.