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As with many things in Canada, the media marketplace may look simple, but once you scratch the surface, it presents significant challenges for advertisers. Canadians are among the peoples least impressed by advertising but most nuanced in their demands of it. They are fractured along language-based lines but also have lower expectations for personalization. They respond well to integrated campaigns but are likely to see media as trying to get their attention rather than benefiting them in any way. They, as we noted elsewhere, are a tough crowd.

So how are advertisers trying to reach them? By the numbers, digital is now the overwhelming choice for media spending in Canada. In 2020, it should comprise 58.2 percent of the total. That said, if you are a brand manager looking at this, you might wonder if you’re behind the curve. Not really. This number reflects a number of circumstances that have little to do with how big company marketers spend their money. For one obvious example, the great bulk of local, classified advertising has shifted to digital media and search marketing.

In addition, highly digitized businesses like Uber and Booking.com have created new business models that rely on data-driven advertising. By precisely targeting segments and measuring ROI, they can greatly increase their spending while maintaining their desired margins. Digital is also unique in that it has an unlimited inventory, which enables these new players and others to up their spending without cannibalizing dollars from TV and other media.

Nonetheless, digital’s share of total Canadian advertising spending is both massive and rapidly growing. In 2019, it is expected to increase 14 percent, while its growth will slow to a mere 12.5 percent in 2020.

At the same time, TV has largely stabilized as a media investment target for brands. According to one study, Canadians spend on average about one entire day a week watching television. While this sounds high, it’s about half as much as in the US. Still, if you’re looking to reach a broad audience in the country, TV remains an excellent medium.

That said, Canadians, like many of their global counterparts, find themselves in a long-term, cyclical shift in the way they watch TV. Live TV is staying essentially flat while cord cutting, OTT, and other “TV my way” services are displacing traditional, paid subscriptions. Of course, this is not an either/or proposition. Many paid TV subscribers also have OTT subscriptions, with Netflix being a dominant player in the country.

We can see roughly the same trends for radio. It comprises 8.7 percent of the total media spending, which is high for global averages and should remain roughly stable over time. However, Canadians are increasingly listening to audio streaming and other nontraditional forms of radio, which also offer much more sophisticated options for automated marketing.

If you’re looking for one area in which Canadians and their southern neighbors are entirely different, it’s outdoor advertising. The United States greatly under-indexes on this channel, while Canadians use it much more than is typical globally. This reflects the curious demographics of Canada, which is often portrayed as a land of pristine lakes and high mountain peaks but is actually the most urbanized of all G-7 nations, with 82 percent of its population living inside a city. This makes it an ideal environment for billboards, and a great place for both digital and targeted strategies. Cinema advertising is also popular with Canadian movie-goers.

The one area entirely lacking in good news for the Canadian media market is print. If you’re looking for a leading indicator, Rogers Media recently sold its publication and custom content business, exiting publishing to focus on broadcast media. This is probably a good move. Newspapers are expected to decline 3 percent in 2019 and 2 percent in 2020, when they will only be 8.7 percent of the total market. Meanwhile magazines face similarly grim news. They should fall 3 percent in 2019 and 1 percent in 2020, when they will comprise only 9.4 percent of the market. This probably requires no explanation, as people have been replacing sheaves of paper with electronic devices for some time.

Overall, the Canadian media market is growing quickly and is expected to rise 6 percent to a total of $12.7 billion in 2020.

Ways to win

Canadians may be a rough audience for brands, but they’re not impossible. Kantar’s annual AdReaction report identified five ways that brands can succeed in this challenging market.

1. Comprehensive integration.

The rule here is simple. The more integrated your campaign is across different media, the better it will perform. This is true for both English and French-Canadian consumers in roughly the same proportion. They prefer to see the same logo, message, and visual theme whether an ad appears online, in print, or on TV. Integration is also an area where Canadian advertisers have room to improve. Twenty-six percent of all Canadian campaigns are not integrated at all, and 29 percent had similar ads but were not customized to individual media. That is a lot of missed opportunity.

2. Start with an idea, not an ad.

Too often, advertisers start by making an ad and then building assets around that. It’s much better to start with a core idea and then let that flow to all other activations. Canadian readers of this report probably need no introduction to CIBC’s snarky penguins, but if you’re outside the country, it’s worth looking up this campaign on YouTube. It’s an excellent example of how a central idea can be expressed in different but effective ways to sell different products and services.

3. Test everything

Just because everyone liked your TV commercial does not mean they will respond well to your targeted placement on Facebook. It’s important to bring the same level of creativity to every part of your integrated media campaign if you want to get the most out of your investment. Part of that is ensuring that you test every execution and select the most effective variant for use. in doing this, it’s worth remembering that the French and English markets can differ greatly in their responses to, especially around influencers and celebrities.

4. Don’t channel surf

While integrated campaigns perform better than those that are not integrated, not all channels are equal when it comes to the Canadian market. Seventy-two percent of both English and French Canadians feel they are seeing more ads now than three years ago. Sixty-five percent of English-speaking Canadians and 62 percent of French-speaking ones feel that ads are more intrusive now. The key takeaway here is that you need to be specific and targeted about whom you reach and when and where you reach them. Blanketing every possible touch point may very well turn off the audience you’d like to impress. And a good rule of thumb is that, the younger an audience is, the more likely it is to skip ads, want shorter videos, desire to be entertained rather than persuaded, and want explicit value from an ad, like a coupon.

5. Customize for platforms

As people are viewing content on more and more platforms, like YouTube or Facebook, advertisers need to take into account the preferences for it. On YouTube, for example, videos should follow one of two simple strategies: cut down in size or cut to the chase. Thirty-five percent of English Canadians and 32 percent of French Canadians want to know quickly if they’re interested in an ad on the platform. Or they want the ad to be over quickly before they have to decide whether to skip it. A make-for-TV-and-release-to-all approach sadly doesn’t work anymore.

Theory in action

Wealthsimple is one of Canada’s more unique digitally native brands. An investment platform aimed at millennials, it relies heavily on content and advertising to drive business, including everything from automated marketing to an edgy, online magazine run by a former editor of GQ.

Above all, Wealthsimple is willing to take risks in its marketing. For example, its recent #TomorrowBeginsToday campaign was produced in-house and directed by Jonathan Aldrich from the French electronic music duo The Blaze. It featured highly emotional videos, each shot people at a critical juncture in someone’s life. Some are obvious, like pregnancy or weddings, but others were much rawer, including a kid getting out of prison, a woman angrily quitting her job, and a man lying on his deathbed surrounded by family.

While Wealthsimple may not be in the Top 40 Canadian brands yet, its highly integrated approach is certainly keeping it top of mind for its consumers. The brand is currently consolidating its success in its home country and expanding into Europe and the United States, where it hopes to emulate the success of other Canadian financial brands.