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Canadians vs. Americans: We’re Only About 40% the Same
Examining the advertising and marketing differences between both sides of the border.

I think, intellectually, we all affirm the differences that exist between Canadians and our American neighbours (yes, that is “bours” up here). Language, legislation, economics, and law all have, often profound, variances between the two countries. But what about advertising and marketing?

Ipsos ASI has done extensive research on what they refer to as the transferability between the two groups inside ad messaging, and have shared recently that about 60% of ads created in the U.S. and exported to Canada (without alteration), resulted in drastically “different sales effectiveness potential in Canada.” While they are not clear if that difference is negative, the rest of their findings allude to that being the case. The reality is, Canadians and Americans are becoming less alike and our viewpoints on core social issues and values are increasingly disparate.

Canadians and Americans are becoming less alike and our viewpoints on core social issues and values are increasingly disparate.

What are some of those key differences?

Canadians on a whole are a realistic, skeptical and pragmatic bunch, relative to Americans. We show lower levels of trust in ad messaging to convey product performance; are more hesitant to try new products; believe there is a fine line between optimistic and upbeat and, ridiculous, over-the-top messaging claims/techniques; and, are generally less aspirational than Americans.

We appreciate the diversity we see around us and want that conveyed in the messaging. We’re a rather relaxed group and look for characters, models and messages that we can relate to, including real and recognizable settings. One big insight is that we seem to be more generous in how family types are reflected, resisting many of the stereotypes and are comfortable seeing gender roles challenged.
Canadian women – specifically within the realm of beauty and appearance – want to look their best, but it has to be natural, which translates to less makeup, moderate anti-aging techniques and visual representations we can see ourselves in.

Once again, we are a realistic group so bold that claims of performance will likely be rejected.

Canadian men also need to be able to put themselves in the situations portrayed in ads, which can be achieved through relatable characters—guys who look like guys they know. This gets to change across different persona profiles within a brand’s consumer group, but often brand ads stay very broad and the models have a homogenous appearance, which Canadian men don’t relate to like their American counterparts.

And then there’s Quebec.

If you’ve ever visited this province, you will quickly understand how proud their people are of their unique position on the Canadian landscape. The factors that differentiate Canadians from Americans are amplified in Quebec. Language, culture and lifestyle, all play profound roles in creating an environment of distinction. They have an inherent distrust of outsiders, are more private than English Canada, and approach life with more joie de vivre than the rest of the country.

The factors that differentiate Canadians from Americans are amplified in Quebec.

Lastly, beyond the variances in messaging, we see the same differentiations within the media universe. The market is smaller (by 10 times) and that has implications many American media buyers either, don’t know about or aren’t sure how to adjust for: How TV is organized and print is versioned; the strength of radio in any given market and, the tactics available in out of home are all very different than what a population of 330 million people can sustain.
Mobile is about on par, but nowhere near that of the UK and Europe. Attitudinally, Canadians are more resistant to seeing advertising everywhere they look, so while creativity wins the day, we resist being smothered by advertising.

If  you’re looking for more on the differences, Michael Adams’ book Fire and Ice is a great start.

Further Reading
The CULT of Customer Experience
FIX: A new prescription to cure disengaged customers, prospects or staff
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