OCTOBER 22, 1970
Are Canadians Simply Americans on Snowshoes?
AN ADDRESS BY John Straiton,
PRESIDENT, OGILVY & MATHER
CHAIRMAN The President,
Harold V. Cranfield
GRACE Rev. Dr. Leland A. Gregory
This would not be much of an introduction if all I had to go on were the less than a dozen biographical lines that this modest man allowed to come out of his office. Maybe it will not be a fitting introduction anyway for it is very hard to do justice to one so accomplished. I did get my hands on an article written by Pat Annesley that appeared in "Marketing" on the last day of January 1969 and it brings him into focus. Here is a man, native to Kapuskasing where everyone in High School, who is worthwhile, acquires a nickname. He was known as "the Professor". Probably because of the horn-rimmed glasses and the ability even then to be wiser than he pretended. Kapuskasing is, as you know, a town of 3000 or so, all of whom are inescapably part of the Spruce Falls Power & Paper Company. It is well above the watershed that directs the rivers into Hudson and James Bay and is a most unlikely place to breed the President and Creative Director of one of this country's most successful advertising agencies, or so it seems to me. He must have had a little talent to contribute as well, something inherited perhaps, for he has a brother in the same trade but in a different organization. (O.K. He is with our good friend Red Foster.) Our speaker was the best artist in town, probably in the whole Hudson's Bay basin except for the odd Eskimo soapstone carver and when he got to Queen's University from whom he obtained a B.A. he used this talent, one year, to create their Christmas card. That isn't so much in itself but it was a sign post showing what direction he was to take. On graduation he spent six months in advertising but he and his first employer agreed that his career was not to be with Spitzer & Mills, maybe not even in advertising. However he was soon back and with the Tandy Advertising Limited and was with them for three years. He left them to go to Young and Rubicam where he stayed for ten years and became the Creative Director and a VicePresident.
I gather that he isn't clear as to why he joined Ogilvy and Mather (Canada) Ltd. as its first copywriter in 1961 for they were just struggling out of the egg. There were only 16 people working for the company then. Today, nine years later, there are 145 and the product has ten times the dollar value--nearly 20 million annually. That isn't the real story, for in the trade he is known as Mr. Chocolate Rowntree, Mr. Soupie Campbell and is stand-in to Commander Whitehead with Schweppes. Besides these, Shell Oil, Johnson & Johnson and Mercedes-Benz are indebted to his sales genius.
Basically this man has more than talent--he believes in doing things very well indeed, which, it is said, he does because he lacks self confidence. In which circumstance you become like Avis, you just try harder. The difference here is that he is No. 1. One of his hobbies is photography and here his artistic talent, bolstered by his diligence and pains-taking attention to perfection, have earned him the amateur award in the Cannes Film Festival twice. (This feat, by the way, has never been equalled by any other person.) So far I have said not a word about his ability to present himself as a speaker; a demonstration of this art is better than anything I could tell you. Let him speak for himself. I now present to you an artistic, articulate, intelligent and thorough man, Mr. John S. Straiton, President and Creative Director of Ogilvy and Mather (Canada) Ltd. His topic will be "Are Canadians Simply Americans on Snowshoes?"
JOHN S. STRAITON
I figure I am about as Canadian as you can get.
I was born in a log house, five hundred miles north of here. For those of you that need orienting, Kapuskasing is 40 miles east of Opasatika. If you walked straight north from my house, the next living soul you'd meet would be Russian.
There used to be a saying up there--"We get nine months of winter and three months of poor snowshoeing." Actually, that wasn't true. We got five months of poor snowshoeing.
When I was a boy, we used to melt snow in a boiler on the kitchen stove to have our Saturday bath in the winter. In summer, we used the river. In the spring and fall, we just stayed a bit farther away from each other.
We had oil lamps, chopped kindling wood, carried water, and were eaten alive by mosquitoes. All the things the well-to-do buy cottages for nowadays.
In winter we were hauled three miles to school in a kind of covered wagon on sleigh runners, hauled by a team of buckskins. All those young bodies squeezed into a dark space on those cold winter mornings. Beats sex education.
How well I remember the excitement of my first trip to the sunny south from Kapuskasing. It took us three days and we got as far south as Timmins.
In the last couple of years I have been to England, Switzerland, Portugal, France and Texas. I've come all the way from the horse and wagon days to the jet. And I'm still three years younger than Pierre Elliott Trudeau.
Things are changing.
To illustrate, let me tell you about my old friend Harold Ekinswaller up in Kapuskasing. Harold was the ace salesman for the Fleet Ford Snowshoe Company. He was also an adroit marketing mind. There was this awful summer slump in snowshoe sales, so Harold developed the world's only moose-gut tennis racket. Used the same production facilities. A bloody good tennis racket it was too, if you didn't mind the flies.
Now, back when I'm talking about, Harold was taking a week off to sit on the back porch and look at his garden. That year the circus came to town for the first time. They set up their tents in August Ridley's pasture. None of us had ever seen any of them wild animals in our lives. Well, wouldn't you know, the elephant pulled his peg out of the muskeg and runs away.
Well, old Harold was sitting on the back porch sipping a glass of goof when this elephant comes wandering into his garden and starts pulling up his cabbages with his trunk and shoving them into his mouth. Well, old Harold leaps into the kitchen and rings up old Alvin Burnby at the O.P.P.
"Cripes, Alvin," he says. "There's a big grey animal in my back yard."
"Oh," said Alvin. "What about it?"
"Well cripes, Alvin," says Harold. "It's bigger'n a moose. And it's pulling up cabbages with its tail."
"Pulling up your cabbages with its tail? What's it doing with them?"
"Gollies Alvin, you wouldn't believe me if I told you."
Well that story's not really true. I made it up. But it could have happened. I saw my first elephant three years ago, in Calgary.
On the other hand, my friends in Kapuskasing now buy Japanese colour television sets, German cameras, English chocolates, Californian avocadoes, South African oranges, New Zealand lamb and Hungarian wine.
And the paper mills like the one in Kapuskasing are selling newsprint and other paper products to Toledo, Takasaki and Timbuctoo too.
My home town--and the rest of Canada, is now part of the Global Supermarket.
We want to buy things from other parts of the world. We have things to sell in other parts of the world.
The age of the multi-national corporation is upon us. Or the international corporation. Or, some say, wryly, the American Corporation.
Our advertising company was started by a runaway Scotchman, David Ogilvy, in the United States. It has become international, almost by invitation.
David Ogilvy's penchant for factual advertising has caused companies in Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Venezuela, Argentina, Mexico, 17 countries in all, to encourage his company, using his methods, to set up shop in their countries. (The agency has just received a request for a coffee commercial, from a Moscow advertising agency for its library of foreign commercials.)
We have gone to work for many international corporations. In Canada we have 7 international clients whose headquarters are in the United States, five whose headquarters are in Britain, one headquartered in Germany and six whose headquarters are in Canada.
My colleagues around the world tell me that Canada is no slouch at being an international operator.
We're giants in Banking around the globe. In farm machinery. How about Alcan, Hudson's Bay, Weston, Distillers Corporation, Brascan, Canadian Breweries, all huge international corporations. Air Canada is one of the world's largest international airlines.
Canada has done a vigorous job in the past five years to merchandise its produce to the world. Exports have more than doubled while world trade has grown 69 percent.
But watch out. With the U.S. dollar under pressure, those super salesmen south of the border are going to put on extra pressure for world markets.
We'll have to sweat a little more, be a little more clever, work a little longer and produce a little faster just to hold our ground.
To gain ground, we have to do it all a hell of a lot harder.
We have some things going for us. Our sense of inferiority is not, happily, one of our exports.
Canada is looked upon with affection in most European countries. We're as well liked as whites can be liked in the Carribean. South Americans regard us, still, as a thing apart from the United States. Holland has a special affection for Canadians.
And speaking of people who love us, have we forgotten our old friends floating off the coast of Europe: the English, the Welsh, the Irish and the Scotch? We may say nasty things about the Queen, but they say very nice things about our airlines, our apples, and, occasionally, about Roy Thompson of Fleet.
I don't know what Americans think about Canada in general. (They have probably some new ideas with the horrible news this week.)
We once tested some advertising ideas for a stereo set in Toronto and in Chicago. The phrase "Made in Canada by Canadian Craftsmen" was rated better in Chicago than it was in Toronto. I know that Canadian whiskey is the biggest selling whiskey in the U.S. They like our spirit, anyhow.
What else have we got? How about production flexibility? Because we are a small country, we can think small.
For example, Bata Engineering. The American plants scoffed at an order for aircraft landing gear. They couldn't be bothered to put up with the down time needed to switch to making a modest seven dozen parts, however big. But Bata Engineering quoted the job and got it. Each part called for hundreds of machining operations and was worth hundreds of thousands. Small potatoes for Americans. Big stuff for us.
That same company, besides pulling in foreign orders galore, makes most of the modern shoe-manufacturing systems sold around the world.
About 10 years ago, a guy called Lewis flew from Toronto to Britain and Europe. Some people chuckled behind their hands. What was he selling? Do-it-yourself Moccasins.
A lot of the giggles disappeared when Mr. Lewis returned to Canada with orders for millions of un-made moccasins.
Gerry Lewis build Lewis Craft do-it-yourself kits to a national pastime--something for all of us to do when we retire. He's a true salesman--and Canada needs more like him.
We're going places in the computer business. And remember the Ski-doo.
Low production runs are, however, far from a total blessing. A canning line that would supply New York State efficiently would be running under capacity in the entire nation of Canada.
Canada needs to manufacture more products at home. That will mean either that we'll have to take the extra cost of small production runs (that's one thing they mean by tightening our belts to be Canadian)--or we'll have to find new markets to allow for bigger production runs.
Japan develops its products for home consumption first. Then, when the home market is saturated, look out world. First cameras. Then electronic equipment. Now by golly, they're scaring the wits out of the Americans and the Germans with their cars.
Our miniature population is spread out--ad mare usque ad mare. Eighty per cent of our people live within 50 miles of the U.S. border, pushed south by mosquitoes and cold weather, and held north by the immigration authorities.
Getting products to this thin red line of people is a headache, and costly.
In some parts of the country, the grocery stores are thirty miles apart. A soap salesman in New York State can average 20 calls a day. In Saskatchewan he's a wonder if he makes eight.
Advertising, too, is more demanding in Canada compared with how it is in the States.
For instance, if an ad agency in the States makes an ad and runs it in Life Magazine, say, they make 15 per cent of the page cost which is about $9,630. Now if we made exactly the same ad, with exactly the same amount of work, and ran it in Macleans, we would make about $1,622, which is about 17 per cent of the money for the same amount of effort.
We have learned a lot of ways to waste less time, to get to the heart of problems faster here.
I think that in Canada, we stand in a unique position in the advertising industry. We sit across the border from the United States where we can observe successes, and failures. We have a taste of international experience because we must work in two languages, and at least two cultures. We look at American TV and read American magazines. We also read Canadian magazines and newspapers, and have four television networks of our own.
But, we learn to think and work on a scale that is more in the range of other countries than the States.
France and Germany have about twice the population of Canada. Spain, Yugoslavia are in the same size league as Canada. Belgium, Sweden, Venezuela and Holland are about a third to a half Canada's size. 1 f you want to advertise in some of these countries, you're talking about populations, in many cases, about the size of New York city. Japan spends about a billion dollars on advertising slightly more than Canada, Britain and Germany, the next largest after America, each spent about twice what Canada does.
Consider Switzerland. There is a country with five million people, less people than our province of Quebec.
The United States spends $20 billion, 450 million on advertising, around twenty times as much as Canada.
In advertising, the United States is ten times bigger than anybody.
People rave about the value of American advertising experience. What use is it? It's like learning to hit only long drives in golf. In Canada you learn how to putt. Like they say in golf circles: "Drive for show, putt for dough."
There are plenty of cases of practical Canadian salesmanship working in many parts of the world.
Let's start with a paper product: Johnson & Johnson J Cloth. Surely you've used one lately, to buff up the chrome on the Rolls. The J Cloth product concept was developed and named and sold first in Canada.
In the States, J and J franchised Colgate to sell the product under the name Handi-Wipes. They took a look at the Canadian advertising, reproduced it exactly and enjoyed healthy sales. Same thing happened in Britain.
Are Canadian simply Americans on snowshoes?
I dunno. I do know that where human needs are similar, their reactions to advertising are also similar.
That's why I say, "the product makes the advertising."
It is easy to find out the essential product feature on which to base advertising. You simply collect all the product's attributes, by talking to people, by showing them the product, by talking to the inventors who developed the product. Then you have these ranked by consumers, using a simple research method "Yes, I love it. No, I hate it." You know where you're going. You get rid of stupid ad approaches. You find what the consumer wants.
That's how we found people liked the milk in Aero milk chocolate. Elementary, you say? But nobody had sold the milk in milk chocolate for a generation. Aero is now Canada's number one milk chocolate bar. You know the commercial--glass milk--the milk disappears, the bar appears. We found the same appeal worked in Australia and England too.
I insist that we use research as a guide to creativity. For objectivity. We continuously go to the consumer for reactions to selling ideas, to commercials. By sticking to an objective method from country to country, you can reduce the influence of chauvinism, of creative vanity.
Advertising is like wine. Some of it does not travel well. Any message based on local idiosyncrasies obviously can't go from country to country. Like one for Coffee Crisp--where the guy says "How do you like your coffee?" and the gal says, "Crisp". He says, "Crisp?". She says, "I like my 'Coffee Crisp' ". Try translating that into French or Swahili.
I could show you advertising made in Canada for Canadian International Paper, for Shell Mileage, for Campbell's soup, for Mercedes-Benz that has been used from country to country--because it extolled the virtues of the product and did not try to be cute, clever, funny or swinging. The products makes the advertising.
I used to be pretty humble about the ability of Canadians to compete in the toughest markets in the world. But not any more. We have learned how to do it fast, efficiently, economically. Our Canadian advertising approach stands up fantastically well in other lands.
It is time for Canada to get out and capture more world business. We have to compete with international corporations so we have to operate like international corporations.
If the international corporation is the way of the future does it take advantage of us or do we take advantage of it?
Are Canadians simply Americans on snowshoes?
We have this conservative nature in Canada. That's why we have so much of our money in savings accounts. That's why the average Canadian is less willing to invest in Canada than the average American. That's why we have the highest life insurance per capita in the world. We like to be sure of something.
We have gone into the world and shown our ability in some ways, in engineering. We're recognized the world over for power generation expertise, for short take-off aircraft, for aluminum, copper, wood products.
But when it gets down to a good old salesmanship on a mass basis, we seem to get cold feet. And yet, we can do it. Why not apply mass marketing techniques to wheat, for example. So far, the wheat marketing board seems to consider its job well done when it dumps the wheat at the port. This is marketing?
Today, Canadian wheat has to compete with rice, with rape seed, with wheat from other lands. I'm told that our biggest wheat competitor could soon be India. We have not changed our grades or our approach for 15 years.
Wheat needs to be sold. Many nations need to be convinced it's a nutritious food. Machinery for milling wheat should be sold as part of the total package. And recipes for baking bread, cakes and pasting things together. There are parts of the world where Canadian wheat may have to be merchandised like Sunkist Oranges, like Chiquita Bananas.
Canadian pulp and paper products have a long way to go. The Canadian government should, right now be encouraging literacy everywhere. Education is a key to economic improvement. And, where people read, paper is vital. In education today, the race is between paper and the transistor.
One thing we've got plenty of is forest products. If we want to thrive in the global supermarket, we must make the most of our resources. I know we can make cloth and dresses and, yes, bikinies of paper. (I keep waiting for one to melt.) Surely the world has its arms wide open for cheaper clothing. I know we can make freight car doors and acoustic ceilings from Canadian pulp.
But where are our inventors? Twenty-five years ago I saw plastic impregnated corrugated board proposed for radio cabinets. Why not paper-based furniture, car bodies, housing exteriors, road surfaces, roofing, insulation for northern super-cities, paper canoes, disposable fishing huts, paper dishes that are really pleasant to eat off, yet can be chewed up in the garbage disposal unit. And some kind of copy paper that doesn't make your hair stand on end when you write on it. There must be thousands of ideas for paper and other forest products that only need the light of genius to develop them.
We have another natural resource that won't burn up, won't wear out and can be used again and again. That's our vast expanse of forests, lakes, feeding grounds, our scenery, our mountains, our seacoasts. Research tells me that people travel to see natural phenomena, most of all. Especially Europeans. Do we sell Canada hard enough as a place to visit, in Germany, in France, in Holland, in Australia? The second most important reason people give for travelling is to meet new people.
We have a good reputation as a people around the world.
But we'll have to work to keep it. We have crummy tourist facilities. We have some Canadians who act rudely to Americans, to Europeans. Perhaps we have to mount a high powered campaign within Canada to encourage Canadians to be themselves, to be polite, to charge fairly and to learn how to cook decently. Americans alone bring one billion dollars to Canada. Surely, for $50.00 a piece, we can be nice.
In this day of the jumbo jet, it's time to develop more package tours to this amazing country of ours. We must hang on to this resource at least. Do you know that right now, the boat cruises on the St. Lawrence are run by Bulgarians? Do you know that hardly any boat cruises include Canada, the beautiful St. Lawrence or the glorious B.C. coast, in their itinerary? And how many Europeans would go out of their minds at the pickerel in the Lac des Milles Lacs, north of Port Arthur or the salmon off Vancouver Island. We can sell, Space, Peace. Solitude. Where else in the world can you get so much clear air for so little money?
Are we going to other lands and testing our ideas and our products to see which will sell? Are we developing new products that use our natural resources? These are just standard marketing procedures.
I have said many times that I believe passionately in research. To me, consumer research in the advertising business is comparable to product development in other industries.
There is thoughtless talk these days of taxing advertising, talk of buying back companies that we have allowed to slip away from us when we were poor, talk of subsidies.
To me, the greatest asset a country can have is brains. When you lose your scientists, your teachers, your actors, your writers, you lose the most valuable natural resource of all.
If it were up to me to suggest where money should be put to make Canada a better country, it would be in the arts, in research and development and so on.
Industries should be given irresistible tax concessions to do product development in Canada. The purpose should be to encourage companies from other countries to move their research departments to this country; to pay engineers, inventors, innovators and designers the highest salaries in the world. Right now, it is clear that scientists like to go where the equipment is better, where they are associating with other brains in their field. Why not encourage industry--all industry--to make Canada its proving ground? Even in marketing and advertising, Canada is a great place to develop ideas for use around the world, at a reasonable cost, with a seasoned, trained marketing people.
Instead of sophomoric threats against advertising to dampen the vigor of our salesmanship how about positive encouragement to sharpen our business acumen.
I would like to see Canada become the magnetic pole for brain-power. We are growing in reputation as a good democratic place to live in spite of the news of the past few weeks. Let's use this appeal we may have for the intelligent to make Canada a gathering place for the outstanding minds of the generation. Summary:
1. There are some Canadians left. Harold Ekinswaller is one of them. I am another.
2. Canada is a good place to learn marketing in perspective. The United States spends ten times more on advertising than any of the rest of us. Canada is nicely in the middle, watching American methods, but adapting to more worldly proportions. We can think small.
3. Canadians can do it. We've proved ourselves as salesmen the world over. Today, moccasins, toilet paper, mortgage money. Tomorrow, the Global Supermarket.
4. We mustn't rest. We must compete with international corporations in their own style. We must invent more Canadian products for the Global Supermarket.
5. We should preserve our most valuable natural resource, brains. By subsidy, if necessary. The brain drain may have stopped, but we need a brain gain to win. Otherwise we will be left with a country full of also rans.
6. Are Canadians simply Americans on snowshoes? No, I don't quite think so. I believe that Canadians are simply rather unconfident, democracy-seeking, French-Phglish speaking, usually polite, parsimonious, but newly ambitious, members of the human race--on snowshoes. And I hope we can keep it that way.
The gratitude of the Club was expressed by Mr. John Irwin.