Is Quebec getting its share?
Media time less expensive and there is more of it. So why aren't advertisers biting?

Former Quebec premier Maurice Duplessis had a saying; "rendez nous notre butin," that crystallizes a key element of the province's attitude towards Canada.

The slogan, which translates roughly into "give us our loot," reflects a long held belief among Quebecers that they rarely get a fair shake in the distribution of the country's wealth. Lately, its advertising community is also starting to think that way. But the ad industry might have a better case than the politicians.

"It's true," says Lyse George, general manager of the Publicité Club de Montréal. "Ask almost anyone here and they will tell you that companies are not spending enough of their ad budgets in Quebec. As an industry, we have to figure out the best way to deal with it."

Patricia Heckmann, executive vice-president, at Carat-Stratégem, which buys media time for some of Canada's biggest advertisers agrees. "Quebec is a very good market to invest in," says Heckmann. "Rates are cheaper than in the rest of Canada, and there is more inventory. But many advertisers spend less in Quebec on a per capita basis than in other provinces."

The figures tell the story. According to Carat compilations, advertisers bought $1.64 billion of television, radio, print and other advertising in Quebec during 2001, compared to $7.62 billion for Canada as a whole. That puts Quebec's share of the country's advertising budget at about 21.5%, while its share of the population stands at closer to 24.3%.

Quebec also does well in terms of overall market size. Two of its municipal regions: Montreal and Quebec City are among Canada's six largest. With 3.6 million people the Montreal region compares well with the 5.04 million that live in the Greater Toronto Area.

But according to Heckmann, population statistics don't explain everything. Marketers don't spend ad dollars based on how many people live in a given area. What they care about is how much money those consumers spend and what products they buy.

The good news is that Quebecers like to thrown their money around. According to Canadian Demographics magazine, despite the fact that per capita GDP in Quebec is lower than in Ontario, per capita consumer spending is roughly equivalent.

For example, average family disposable income (excluding food and housing) in the greater Toronto area during 2002 was $41,857, compared to just $22,502 in Montreal. Yet per capita retail sales were roughly identical ($9,400 in Toronto compared to $9,600 in Montreal).

With these statistics in hand, Quebec's advertising community is turning up the heat to encourage businesses to spend more ad money here. The Publicité Club, one of industry's most important lobby groups, recently held a conference in which some of the Montreal's key players debated the issue.

According to Markus Sandmayr, vice-president of marketing at Danone Canada, a French company, whose diary products are highly popular in Quebec, determining whether spending ad dollars in a particular market is a good investment is best done on a case-by-case basis.

There are significant differences in buying patterns between Quebec and the rest of Canada. Quebecers tend to favor luxury goods, clothes and personal care products, while Canadians spend more on housing, transportation and entertainment.

"Quebecers spend a higher percentage of their disposable income on food than those in the rest of Canada," said Sandmayr, in his presentation to the conference. "It's an important factor that advertisers need to consider when choosing where to invest."

Heckmann agrees. "If you are in the yogurt business, it pays to advertise in Quebec, because Quebecers consume more yogurt than other Canadians," says Heckmann. "On the other hand if you are marketing California wines, you might be better off doing so in the rest of Canada, because Quebecers tend to prefer French wines."

According to Denis Brault, a brand manager at Labatt's Breweries, beer is another big item among Quebec consumers. For a variety of reasons including tradition, cheaper retail prices and a more favorable climate in the province's bars, Quebecers soak up the suds at a much faster rates than their Ontario cousins. That reality is reflected in Labatt's advertising budgets for its key brands including the Blue family and the Budweiser line.

"Despite the fact that media time is more expensive to buy in Ontario, we spend at least as much per capita in Quebec, if not more," says Brault.

That Quebec's advertising agencies would want businesses to spend more money here will come as a surprise to no one. However according to one advertiser, a marketer's goals in a particular geographic area should not be measured in terms of how much is spent in that market, but should be based on how effectively the vendor reaches his target market.

"We are spending millions of dollars building our brand across Canada, but we don't set spending objectives geographically," says Michel Brossard, director of marketing at RONA. "Spending as a percentage of the population is a side issue. As a marketer what's important is that you keep up your conversation with the consumer."

"Investing in the Quebec market has been highly profitable for us," says Brossard. "Like many Canadians, Quebecers have been buying more home renovation and hardware products, and growth has been strong."

The Quebec advertising industry is partially a victim of the success of its media. Television and radio time in Quebec is cheaper yet, many agencies are still remunerated as a percentage of total media spending, rather than how many people watch their ads, leaving them out in the cold.

In fact according to one executive, Quebec is one of the best places to buy television advertising in North America.

"Quebecers watch and hour and a half more television per week than viewers in the rest of Canada, " says Richard Portelance, general manager of sales and marketing for La Société Radio-Canada. "What's more, there are several shows that are seen by broad segments of the population, which means that their reach far exceeds what's available in the rest of Canada."

For example Radio-Canada's La Fureur, a variety show starring Véronique Cloutier, which airs Friday nights, draws about a million viewers, or one third of all Quebecers watching television at the time.

What's more it's a family show, so there's less zapping, and viewers tend to sit through the commercials. The price is right too. Portelance estimates that TV ad time costs about 20% less on a cost-per-thousand basis than in the rest of Canada.

Another big plus is Quebec's highly developed star system, through which key brands such as Bell, Listerine, and Pepsi, have leveraged to grab huge mind-share in the province. Many stars such as Cloutier are recognized by almost all Quebecers except hermits and anglophones.

Quebec media is also more willing to play ball with advertisers says Heckmann. "The way the contracts are structured, if I want to buy ad space in the greater Toronto area, I've also got to buy the Kitchener, London and Ottawa markets, even if I don't really need them," says Heckmann. "That means a lot of my investment is wasted. On the other hand if I want to reach Montrealers, I can do so directly. You can buy media much more selectively in Quebec."

Heckmann also agrees that the costs per thousand to advertise on television are lower in Quebec than in the rest of Canada, and the difference in many markets is significant..

But that brings up a good point: if advertisers spend 15% less per capita on Quebec media, yet costs per thousand are 15% cheaper in Quebec, that means they are reaching Quebec consumers with the same frequency, yet they are doing so at a cheaper price.

According to Heckmann one trend that would help boost Quebec advertising, due to its more highly targeted media offering, is if Canadian companies followed the lead of the Americans and moved to strategic based evaluations.

"A lot of people here in Canada think in terms of gross rating points only," says Heckmann. "They believe that a GRP is a GRP. But it's not. Advertisers need to better evaluate who they are reaching. If you can better target your audience in Quebec, that means your advertising dollar goes a lot farther."

Asked if whether or not advertisers are making up for their spending shortfall in the Quebec market, by the fact that their ad dollars go a long way, Lyse George of the Publicité Club just laughed.

"If advertisers are getting better value buying Quebec media time, then they should spend more," George said. "Or else maybe the television stations should charge higher prices."

 

 

Photo caption: The huge loyal audiences drawn by stars like Véronique Cloutier, host of Radio-Canada's La Fureur, is one the reasons that buying Quebec advertising is such a good deal for marketers.

 

 

Diekmeyer can be reached at peter@peterdiekmeyer.com

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