Coke may be the official brand of the Olympics, but in Quebec, Pepsi still gets the gold.
The Choice of a New Generation has beaten the Real Thing in the distinct society, well, almost since those were the taglines for the world's cola category killers. It's the opposite in the rest of Canada, and indeed almost everywhere else in the world.
Pepsi's Quebec ads help to explain its success. While Coke has usually just translated its national and international campaigns in the province, Pepsi has customized its ads to meet distinctly Québécois tastes.
Its latest TV spot may be its best yet. Here's the scene: A Scandinavian-sounding tourist, with the insouciance of Mr. Bean, walks into a casse-croûte somewhere in Quebec's hinterland and makes the mistake of ordering a Coke. The snack bar falls silent. Wildlife stops in the forest. Traffic grinds to a halt in Old Quebec. People stick their heads out of upper-floor windows. When the waiter finally pops open a can of the blue-and-red in front of him, the tourist clues in: " Ah! Ici, c'est Pepsi."
The spot, produced by agency BBDO Montréal, builds on the " Ici" theme Pepsi has been using for a few years to consolidate its lead in the province over Coke.
A memorable 2006 ad, also by BBDO, involved a runaway Pepsi coin machine that, after sliding off a delivery truck, rolls by a series of Québécois landmarks. When it reaches the border, it hesitates and turns back.
Pepsi actually lagged Coke in the Quebec market until the mid-80s. While Pepsi's early-80s New Generation campaign, featuring Michael Jackson, was a hit globally, it didn't do much for the brand in Quebec. So the soft drink maker then turned to comedian Claude Meunier (then one-half of the province's answer to Cheech and Chong) to launch Quebec-only ads for the first time.
The impact was nearly instantaneous. Whereas Pepsi sales lagged those of Coke by about 15 per cent in 1984, two years later, Pepsi had a 12-point advance. Its lead grew to 20 per cent by the early 1990s. A Pepsi spokesperson refused to provide current figures, but insisted the brand still dominates Coke in Quebec.
Mr. Meunier has since moved on to become the lead pitchman in the province for Diet Pepsi. But studying the original Meunier campaign is still essential for anyone trying to position a brand in Quebec.
Hint: Go local, not global. And never go national.
Unless it's during the Olympics. It seems that for two weeks, every two years, Quebeckers don't mind being reminded they're Canadian. In fact, as pollster Jean-Marc Léger recently wrote: "For a few podiums, we'd be more Canadian than Jean Chrétien."
Bombardier figured as much when it made the unexpected move of running the same TV ads during the Olympics in Quebec as in English Canada. You know, the ones featuring versions of O Canada in Zulu, Hindi, Vietnamese, Punjabi and Swedish. Not even Gilles Duceppe could resist that.
The Bomber's latest tack is a switch from last year, when it launched an earlier series of TV commercials - like the Olympics ads, also produced by the Montreal office of Taxi - using different taglines in French and English. The English one boasted: "Planes. Trains. Canadian Spirit." The French version dropped the Canuck reference. It went: "Planes. Trains. A source of pride." (Indeed, each remains the Bomber's official slogan, depending on the audience.)
Surprisingly, Bell Canada - once one of the leaders in Quebec-specific branding - has dropped the approach. For years, Bell regaled Quebeckers with its ads featuring Monsieur B, played by popular actor Benoît Brière. When it cast two beavers as its pitchmen in 2005, however, it gave them different French names (Jules and Bertrand, instead of Frank and Gordon), but produced the same ads for each solitude.
Bell's recent rebranding, overseen by four agencies, including long-time Bell account holder Cossette Communication-Marketing, is similarly pan-Canadian. Though it has different French and English taglines - " La Vie est Bell" versus "Today Just Got Better" - the content of its ads is identical in each language.
It's safe to say the Bell approach will not be adopted by the federal political parties as they prepare ads for the upcoming election. Last time around, the Bloc Québécois won 51 seats with the slogan: "Luckily, here, it's the Bloc."
If that sounds suspiciously like Pepsi's Quebec tagline, there's a reason. It works.