The World: Insider's view - Canada

With Canada lagging behind the rest of the world in the way it targets consumers, it's high time marketers began challenging the status quo, Ellen Zabitsky writes.

Being Canadian, all I need to do is look out my front door for evidence of innovation. So when I say innovation is unpopular in Canada, I'm talking about our method of reaching consumers: the when and where of the marketing equation. When we compare ourselves with the rest of the world, specifically Asia, Europe and Australia, we're falling far behind. So what's the problem?

In each country, marketers study how their consumers make decisions, and, particularly in the regions mentioned above, have found nations of super multitaskers: young and even the middle-aged using more than one medium at the same time. Eating, talking on their cell phones and gaming, all the while engaging in online content.

Canada is not so far behind. Yet those other nations have responded quickly to their research and taken marketing to a whole new level, experimenting with new media in unprecedented ways. We haven't. Our media choices tend to fall back on the traditional. TV first, then print and out-of-home, with perhaps a little online thrown in for good luck.

I'm not saying every marketer in Canada is doing this, nor am I saying the traditional methods are dead. Plenty of new media elements have been added to the mix. There are some Canadian marketers trying something new, but they generally start in the same place, as if the consumer is out there, waiting, ready to receive our "broadcast"!

Engaging with consumers is not so hard. We just have to be prepared to take the route less travelled and deliver honest solutions. Take the Lynx campaign, a Cannes Lions Grand Prix winner with its innovative and risky launch of an airline, replete with "mostesses", online ticketing and viral efforts.

According to research from the Media Federation of Australia, the target audience likes messaging that lives beneath the radar of mass-market commercial culture. This is not always a popular approach in Canada. Many organisations still believe in the practice of budget-splitting along traditional lines: 75 per cent TV/radio/print and 25 per cent new media, and then using those media in, well, traditional ways. If we're truly interested in reaching our consumers in relevant ways, then get ready to rumble. Challenging the status quo with clients, agencies, even your boss, can be daunting.

What to do? I propose we take a look across the ocean, as if we're looking into the not-so-distant future. Then believe our very survival will depend on providing decision-makers with unpopular advice. Start with the idea. Then remember TV is just one of many choices in the delivery of that great idea. Go back to those business objectives and challenge again. When the stellar results pour in, what was once unpopular will suddenly be very popular.

- Ellen Zabitsky is the executive vice-president of client development at GJP Advertising in Toronto.

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