Something caught my interest the other day, and if you’re a regular reader, you know that means I’ll either photograph it or write about it. This came out of a casual conversation with someone whom I knew had changed jobs and I asked “How’s the new job?”.
His situation was this: he was working with an American firm that had recently opened a branch office in Canada (although why do it now, with the economy still as shaky as it is, wasn’t explained) and set about their normal business practice. The head office couldn’t understand why they weren’t getting the response they expected and their bean-counters had assured them would happen and was taking it out on him.
I didn’t have an answer for him, even though I’ve worked in international trade and have studied marketing, but then an answer wasn’t required. He merely wanted to bitch to someone. But, the question of why things weren’t happening stayed with me. I doubted the problem was with the product itself – it was just another product on the shelf and it functioned as it was supposed to – so it had to be the way they were marketing it.
I suspected they were using the same marketing techniques they used in the US – after all, Canadians are just Americans who talk funny and add a “u” to words like “neighbour” (just an aside: Sir John A Macdonald, our first Prime Minister, was able to get an Act through Parliament making the inclusion of that “u” the only legal spelling of certain words). Many American firms have made the same mistake as my friend’s employer – assuming that because we share a continent, we are alike. Wrong.
Although our culture is indeed influenced by what we see on American television and movies – I think 85% of the population of Canada lives within 100 miles of the border with the US – we are a distinct society. Our tastes differ and how we react to advertising differs. Even our humour is different. If you’re of a certain age, you remember the Ed Sullivan Show and a comedy duo that held the record for the most appearances. Wayne and Shuster were Canadian. The skits they were best known for were “Rinse the Blood off my Toga” and “A Shakespearean Baseball Game”. The first was based on Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” (favourite bit from “Rinse the Blood…” was set in a bar: the lead character in the skit says to the bartender “give me a martinus”, to which the bartender replies “You mean martini.” Response: “If I want two I’ll ask for them.”) and the other was a mix of various Shakespearean characters and titles. Moving up to date, one of the more popular shows was “Corner Gas” with comedian Brent Butt as the star. In both cases, the humour was both literate and slightly subversive. There is currently a programme on CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corp) that I can’t honestly say I could see being on the air in the US. The programme, a comedy, is called “Little Mosque on the Prairie”. The premise is a Muslim group settles in a small town in Saskatchewan (same province as “Corner Gas” was set in) and deals with the attempts of both the Muslims and the townspeople to adapt to one another.
Yes, many of Canadians’ favourite programmes are American, but that is more because there are certain genres the Americans are better at producing than are Canadians. Other than the CSI series (Vegas and New York especially); “Bones”, and “Castle” there are very few American shows I watch. When it comes to police dramas I actually prefer British or Australian progammes. In fact as I type this, I’m watching “Law and Order – U.K.) Oddly enough, one of the biggest hits on CBS in the past couple of years has been “Flashpoint”, a Canadian police drama.
Music is another area where our tastes differ. How many times have you read articles on European groups where it states that outside their home country, their biggest fan base is Canada while in the US, the reaction is “who’s that?”
Canadians are very nationalistic, although we seem to frown upon the displays of that nationalism so common in the US. American firms trying to do business in Canada need to understand this quiet patriotism and tailor their advertising to Canadian perceptions. As I wrote in the title “We are not the same”.
Enjoy your weekend and remember to hug an artist – we need love too.