Advertisers must get more creative

Television and print still dominate marketing strategies but companies have to work harder to get their messages out

When Martin Sansregret worked on advertising campaigns ten years ago, big marketers typically used a "hard sell," approach in their television commercials.

"It was almost a formula," joked Sansregret, planning director at Bos, one of Quebec's hottest advertising agencies. "Every commercial mentioned the product four times, showed it seven times and featured lots of happy people using it."

But according to Sansregret, "hard sell" is out.

"You can't do that today," Sansregret said. "Customers get exposed to so much advertising, you'd turn them off. You have to grab their attention by using humor, celebrities or through a highly visual approach."

Marketing is by definition an evolving discipline. Successful marketers shift strategies constantly to adapt to customers' changing lives. To understand some of the key trends, we convened four of the city's top industry pros and asked them to share their secrets.

The panel included Sansregret, Don Baker, president of Baker-Blais Marketing, David Béland, a media consultant with Carat Expert and Patrick Hadsipantelis, an advertising director at Microcell Solutions.

All agreed that today's consumer is increasingly sophisticated, tougher to reach and far more in tune with what's happening around the world than ever before.

Ironically, the consequences of the country's biggest demographic trend --Canada's aging population --are so well researched and tracked by marketers today, that they were considered givens and scarcely mentioned by panel members.

Far more important are the country's youth, who drive consumption and set trends, not only for their generation, but for others too. And today's youth have a broad outlook.

"You used to be able to understand Quebecers by referring to local culture and developments," said Sansregret. "That's no longer true. Trends are much more global today."

Sansregret cited a recent Parti Quebécois report, which said that younger Quebecers are shifting their focus from sovereignty to international developments such as global warming.

Other trends mentioned included an increasingly pronounced split between urban and rural consumers, as evidenced by the increasingly multicultural mixes in big cities. "Ethical consumption," of products produced by companies who respect strict environmental and labor standards is also in vogue.

Ironically, marketers are mostly using traditional methods to reach today's changing consumers. Television and print advertising still dominate, in large part because that's where the eyeballs are. Internet advertising, once filled with big promise, still doesn't appear to have made a significant impact, though everyone continues to pay it lip service. But despite the fact that the ad categories are still more or less the same, spending within them is not, said Béland.

One example is television, which is seeing continued migration of viewers toward specialty channels catering to specific sub groups such as men, sports lovers, or fans of niche programming such as mysteries or classics.

"Businesses are watching the money they spend much more," Béland said. "They want to make sure that they are reaching their potential customers, not people who won't buy their products."

According to Hadsipantelis, marketers are also using increasingly sophisticated techniques to judge advertising effectiveness.

"We find that success in our sales efforts correlates strongly with success in our advertising campaigns, so we measure everything," said Hadsipantelis. "We are constantly polling to quantify advertising recall levels, top of mind awareness and (whether the consumer) understood the message,"

But advertisers don't just have to work harder to make commercials more creative, they have to make more of them.

"The life-span of a TV commercial is shorter than it used to be," said Hadsipantelis. "People get bored quicker and you have to give them something new all the time."

Canada's increasing multi-cultural mix, --which crystallized recently when Chinese replaced French as the second most widely spoken language in Canada outside of Quebec, --is also affecting Microcell's marketing. The company now produces brochures and offers voice mail services in Mandarin and Cantonese.

The large volume of advertising that consumers are exposed to poses a special dilemma for today's marketers, who are under pressure to go to increasingly audacious levels to get noticed.

But according to Sansregret, these efforts amount mostly to a waste of time.

"Companies are much better off if they come up with a unique selling proposition that distinguishes themselves from the pack," Sansregret said. "Then they should market their product, using one big, simple and easy-to-understand idea."

The heavy advertising that consumers are exposed to is making them increasingly numb. As a result, advertisers are focusing on the few remaining moments when consumers are alone. For example more money is being put into bigger and more creative billboards in high traffic areas.

According to Baker, marketers are also turning to direct marketing to reach highly targeted segments using customized promotions. These promotions are particularly useful in the pharmaceutical industry, where companies often have to reach a segmented group such as people who suffer from a particular ailment. Even so, standing out remains an increasing challenge.

"It's the "purple elephant" thing," Baker said. "These days to get noticed, it's not enough to have an elephant, because everyone got one of those. To stand out, the elephant has to be purple too."



Sidebar: Spending ad dollars more effectively

o Track consumer demographics, migration patterns, changing lifestyles and tastes to better target your advertising.
o Create a unique selling proposition, and a unique selling language, to distinguish yourself from the competition.
o Try to focus your campaign around one big idea. Be creative in your advertising, entertain, use imagery to tell your story visually.
o Gage advertising effectiveness using techniques such as post-campaign polling and focus groups


Photo caption: The Gazette's marketing experts panel: Martin Sansregret planning director Bos, Patrick Hadsipantelis, advertising director at Microcell Solutions, David Béland, media consultant Carat Canada and Don Baker, president Baker-Blais Marketing.

Chart: Advertising expenditures for selected media (2003-Quebec)

Television $ 630.7 (million)
Daily newspaper $ 527.2
Magazine $ 145.0
Out of home $ 97.2
Radio $ 50.0

Total $1,450.1


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