This post originally appeared on Newswire.ca 

In a recent article for the Globe and Mail, Susan Krashinsky writes: “The idea that marketers need to treat Québec as distinct is nothing new.”  As pointed out in part one of this series, The Importance of Communicating in Multiple Languages, most marketing experts agree that Québec is a distinct market segment complete with its own consumer attitudes and buyer behavior.

Still, however old the concept, however well documented it is, many companies fail to invest in Québec-specific marketing strategies. The reason is simple: a successful campaign in Québec (or any outside market for that matter) involves extensive research and a thorough knowledge of the audience. It often necessitates consumer insights such as focus groups or surveys. The process can be long and costly, and at the end of the day, the financial investment becomes a deterrent. Yet, as proven in the example below, the venture can not only be rewarding in the short term, it can have a timeless impact on your company’s reputation and market shares!

Allow me to revert back to the mid-eighties…

In 1984, Pepsi-Cola introduced the now famous slogan “The Choice of a New Generation” and rolled out ads featuring some of the most popular celebrities of the day. Although the campaign was hugely successful in the United States and English Canada, it failed to resonate with the French speaking Québécois audience. According to a report compiled by the Canadian Congress of Advertising, Pepsi had stalled at 87 per cent of Coca-Cola’s share in a province that imbibed 25 to 30 per cent of all the soft drinks in Canada.

Considering the strong bond that had united the company and the province since 1934 – the year Pepsi-Cola Company of Canada established its headquarters and first production facility in a small building in Montreal  – the results were considered a huge disappointment.

In 1985, Pepsi-Cola turned to global marketing communications giant J. Walter Thompson to improve their sales in Québec. The firm’s research prompted Pepsi to invest in a market-specific strategy targeted to the French-speaking Québécois audience, becoming the first multinational to ever do so in the province.

Claude Meunier – a very popular comedian, half of the famous Ding et Dong duo –was chosen to parody typical Québécois characters with one common denominator: their infinite fondness of Pepsi. The ads debuted in 1985 and featured parodies of a variety of characters and a brand of humour only French Canadian people from Québec would understand and appreciate. It was an instant hit and sales of Pepsi began to rise, surpassing Coke by 1986.

To this day, even though Coca-Cola outsells them in most areas of the world, Pepsi continues to hold its dominance in Québec by relying on local celebrities to sell its product.

Back then Pepsi took a calculated risk, investing a significant amount of time and money into research and development of a Quebec-specific strategy. The results more than paid off and the Meunier campaign is now used as a case study in advertising schools around the world. The lesson marketers and communications professionals can learn from Pepsi? Your brand simply can’t afford to forget the French!

About Benoit Bourdeau

Benoit Bourdeau is Manager, Media and Web Content at Cision Canada.

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