American vs. Canadian Messaging

March 8, 2016

“It works in the US. It should work in Canada.”

As Canadian marketers, we regularly face this conundrum. The US is known for producing some of the world’s leading advertising campaigns, but as depicted in Coke’s recent roll-out of product-oriented advertising, one-size-fits all marketing might not cut it after all.

Are the US and Canada similar enough to warrant copy-cat advertising?

We asked Laura Ballance, president of Laura Ballance Media Group. Her firm has helped dozens of clients, from governments and organizations to events and aboriginal groups.

In order to understand what works north of the border, you need to first understand what makes our American friends tick.” says Laura.

America is made up of many different types of cultures. The common belief in America is in the nation itself: the greatest country on earth. In America, patriotism doesn’t like to be challenged.

This underlying belief is so deep-rooted that it affects US advertising.

In the US, you advertise to. In Canada, you have conversations with.

This is where Laura sees the greatest dichotomy between the US and Canada.

Our patriotism allows us to challenge the establishment on core issues. Simply because the government tells you something, does not make it an acceptable excuse.

Laura references areas of healthcare and education where Canadians have consistently thought it okay to challenge government.

We like to give examples justifying a theory with the ability for that theory to be challenged.

The way we challenge is different. In Canada, we prefer conversation over confrontation. This is true for our advertising as well.

Canadians like to come to their own decisions.

Laura remembers a campaign coming out of the US for the oil and gas sector.

It was beautiful. It looked like Steven Spielberg shot it – very expensive. But it didn’t resonate. There was a knowledge gap. Just because you tell [Canadians] something doesn’t mean we will accept it. We need to have a conversation about it.

Laura also noted the tendency for “big” personalities to lead advertising efforts in the US.

In Canada we tend to be more modest and downplay. Associating with a single person isn’t as effective. I just find that, at the core, Canadians are less about traditional advertising.

Canadian Diversity

When it comes to marketing and PR campaigns within Canada, Laura thinks successful methods in Vancouver are very different than what works elsewhere.

We’re very diverse both by province as well as city. What works in Toronto or even Calgary doesn’t work in Vancouver. You have to communicate very differently here.

We need to take away that over-sensationalized or dramatic approach and replace it with local market knowledge.

Laura referenced some ways in which people in Vancouver like to do things differently than other Canadians.

Vancouver is an expensive place to live. We have a compressed summer season. We live here because we love the outdoors, but we have very little time to engage with it. Those factors draw a certain type of person. We have limited time and so we desire to have things we determine to be of high value. The drive-through model won’t work here.

People respond to event or product marketing with value a proposition, and it’s usually not money. We also live in an ethnically diverse region: cheapest and fastest are not defining factors for most families.

Getting Even More Specific

Given that Canada is different than the US, and that Vancouver is different than the rest of Canada, we wanted to see what advertising efforts Laura has seen success with locally.

We asked about radio.

30-second ads are effective in some regions, but [in Vancouver] you have significantly less success. What works better here are targeted campaigns, value propositions, radio personalities, and live-liners.

Laura goes so far as to say that spending on American-style, 30-second radio spots can be a “huge mistake”.

Not only will you not appeal to your audience, you’ll actually put them off. Cookie cutter ads devalue your product or service.

So how can Vancouver-based marketers do better?

Do a focus group,” says Laura. “8 out of 10 will know an American ad. We have a resistance to something we don’t see as local. That’s not to say we’re anti-american, we’re just pro-regional.

Then Laura had an idea. Rather than run an ad,

Take $100,000, pile it up, and burn it to get residual news coverage.

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