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The end of retail as we know it! — And L'Elisir d'Amore by Gaetano Donizetti

Categories: On my radar this week

Posted on 11-27-19 at 4:16 p.m.

More and more consumers prefer to shop online

Back in April 2018, I wrote a post about how the majority of consumers were still more attracted to in-store than online shopping. This was based on data from 2017. At that time, despite the growing appeal of e-commerce, two in three Canadians (68%) said they preferred to shop in stores (with no significant regional variances across the country).

However, our 2019 data reveals that interest in online shopping has grown considerably. In fact, while 19% of Canadian consumers preferred to shop online in 2017, that number has risen to 25%, while preference for in-store shopping has dropped to 60% (still with no significant regional variances).

When offered the option of visiting a store to familiarize themselves with products and then to order online to get the exact desired product delivered to their home, 14% said they preferred this option (virtually unchanged from 13% in 2017).

The future is online!

Unquestionably. While a six-point rise from 2017 to 2019 may seem modest, there was an 8-point rise among people under 55 and those with above-average incomes. Note, too, that among professionals and administrators, preference for online shopping has risen from 23% in 2017 to 36% in 2019 (a 13-point bump in two years!).

Based on this data, if the trend continues, within five years more than half of consumers under the age of 55 will prefer to shop online, a market share that "brick-and-mortar" merchants cannot afford to lose (and this does not account for the new younger generations of consumers who will enter the market by then). What's more, the younger the consumer, the more they prefer to shop online-yet another harbinger of what's to come.

At the supply level, too, the current trend will not hold. The pace of change will speed up exponentially! We live in an era of technological innovation that will see increasingly sophisticated, effective and targeted consumer marketing further accelerate the penetration of e-commerce (personalized offers using data science, geolocation, etc.).

There are too many stores!

In response to the momentum of online shopping, we will see a pushback by brick-and-mortar stores. This has already begun in some places. The in-store experience will certainly have to change to counter the trend. It will have to become part of an ecosystem of experiences in which the store and online shopping complement instead of compete with each other. Too often, the transactional website is seen as just an extra "store," instead of being designed for a specific and complementary role.

Apple is a good example of this new business model. Apple only has few physical stores, and they carry only a limited selection of products and options, just enough to let customers handle their products, provide service and monetize the investment, while sending consumers to their website to buy exactly what they need. As such, they are optimizing their real estate investment and their inventory management.

For example, in the entire Greater Montreal Area, Apple has only four stores. Compare that to a typical clothing chain. And this is a product category whose online sales are growing steadily!

Which brings us back to the third option we offered consumers: visiting a store to familiarize themselves with the products and then ordering a specific product online for home delivery. An option that is not all that popular at the moment, but one that is set to take off in coming years.

Inevitably, the number of freestanding stores and stores in shopping centres is going to decline over time. Online shopping will render the current store model obsolete. With the exception of very specialized stores offering a high level of expertise from vendors, as well as those selling everyday products, such as grocery stores and drugstores (for the time being, because even these sectors may eventually undergo significant transformation).

There will definitely be no shortage of available commercial space in the coming years!

Transforming the in-store experience based on consumer hot buttons

However, all is not lost for stores, provided they radically transform the customer experience. By offering what the industry calls "experiential marketing"-creating a place where consumers can "experience" products and services in person, where they can have a pleasant brand experience. They are then sent to the website to see a broader range of products.

To drive consumers who prefer to shop online into their physical stores, stores must respond to consumers' motivations, values and hot buttons by providing a fun and enjoyable place-a destination-that is aligned with what is available on the website, which complements the store.

Online consumers are hungry for innovation, exploration and discovery. They want to play. They are willing to take some monetary risk to enjoy new, rewarding, stimulating and unusual experiences, or an experience that checks off at least one of these attributes. And the better job a store can do of offering this type of live experience, the more popular a destination it will become. A store no longer has to stock every product and every option, only what is necessary to provide a desired experience because its website is there to fulfill more specific needs.

Stores and shopping centres must become playgrounds! A place of discovery, a place to familiarize oneself with products, and especially with innovations. A place for entertainment, enjoyment, relaxation and escape. When we shop, we want to have fun, explore and enjoy life. We seek unique places of indulgence.

It is interesting that online consumers feel the same way. Obviously, there is a limit to what a website can do to meet such expectations! It seems to me that a physical locale with all its experience possibilities lends itself infinitely better to adequately responding to the needs expressed by the online consumer.

One of the rare traits that distinguishes consumers who prefer to shop in-store (given their still very large number) is what we call "polysensoriality," a desire for stimulating experiences that engage all the senses, not just sight. A desire to feel, touch, taste and hear, all things that a store can deliver very well (and certainly much better than it does now).

An opportunity, not just a threat!

The current trends in consumer habits, expectations and needs may appear to threaten the retail store, whether freestanding or in a shopping centre, but they may also represent a great opportunity! Transforming a store into a place of discovery and enjoyable experiences for customers does not necessarily involve a huge investment. You just have to make sure that you know what your customers need and expect, in order to make the correct modifications so that they can have a little fun! (Forgive the not-so-subtle plug for our services.)

L'Elisir d'Amore by Gaetano Donizetti

This post's musical clip is an excerpt from Donizetti's L'Elisir d'Amore (The Elixir of Love), where we find one of the oldest ways of delivering goods to consumers: the travelling salesman. In this opera, an itinerant "doctor" is promoting a cure-all elixir to the townsfolk!

Gaetano Donizetti : L’Elisir d’Amore, Anna Netrebko, Rolando Villazon, Leo Nucci, Ildebrando D’Arcangelo, Chor und Orchester der Wiener Staatsoper, Otto Schenk, Alfred Eschwé, Virgin Classics, Wiener Staatsoper, April, 2005.

The “incels” – And Don Giovanni by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart


Posted on 10-25-19 at 1:46 p.m.

One in three Canadians (33%) think that if a lot of men are staying single, it is because women are too superficial to accept them!

My post this week deals with the manosphere, the subject of an article that appeared in L'Actualité on October 9 and a documentary on Télé-Québec on October 16. The manosphere refers to those web-based communities, forums and groups dedicated to men who, to put it mildly, do not have the most harmonious relationships with women!

The comments on these sites range from accounts of trouble forming romantic relationships with women to expressions of visceral hatred toward them, a phenomenon unfortunately consistent with the 25-year-old Ontarian who, in April 2018, drove his truck into pedestrians on a Toronto sidewalk in a deliberate attempt to murder as many women as possible (killing eight women, along with two men, in the process)!

The author of the L'Actualité article, Marc-André Sabourin, identified four categories of lonely men:

Men Going Their Own Way (MGTOW), heterosexuals who strive to live without women; masculinists whose mission is to defend men's rights (men are victims of discrimination, apparently); pickup artists specializing in one-night stands; and, finally, the "incels," involuntary celibates, misogynists who self-define as being unable to find a sexual partner due to the cold indifference of women!

Although we haven't delved as deeply into the topic as journalist Marc- André Sabourin, we have been interested for some time in the incel phenomenon, which, in our opinion, represents another manifestation of some of the dysfunctions of our society. In fact, we added a question about it in the latest survey of our Panorama program on the values of Canadian consumers and citizens.

Among a series of questions asking people if they agree with certain statements, we inserted this one to measure the incidence of incels in the country:

"If some men stay single for a long time even though they would like to be in a relationship, it's because women are generally too superficial and are only attracted to men with a perfect body."

To our amazement, 33% of Canadians, one in three, agreed with this statement! Out of curiosity, we had put this question to the entire population (with a sample reflecting that): 39% of men agreed, along with 27% of women, some of them probably taking pity on men!

Moreover, when we isolate the subset of single men (without a partner, separated, divorced or widowed), the proportion of these target males, so to speak, rises to 46%. Given these astonishingly high these numbers, we checked and rechecked our data and the way they were processed many times.

Young people and those with low income and educational levels

Sociodemographically and socio-economically, it is surprising to observe that it is young people who are the most in agreement with our statement (42% of those under 35 versus 26% of those age 55 and older). Given all the online dating services, dating algorithms and younger people's familiarity with social media, we might have expected different results.

There have been many studies published in recent years on how much better women are doing scholastically than men. Perhaps they are having trouble connecting to less educated young men, a hypothesis that remains to be examined.

We also find that the proportion of people in agreement with the statement systematically rises as their level of income and education falls below the average for the population. A person's socio-economic level appears to be an important determinant of this kind of mentality.

However, it should be noted that there is some gradation in agreement with our statement: 11% strongly agree (they are truly furious with women), while 22% somewhat agree (even so, being somewhat in agreement with such a blatant statement still expresses a great deal of recrimination). It should also be noted that this double difference between "strongly" and "somewhat" agree (11% versus 22%) is found in about the same proportions in all the subgroups studied.

A high degree of conservatism

Who exactly are these men who say they agree with our statement? By looking at all of their responses to our Panorama survey on personal values, we were able to identify the following three characteristics:

1. A very traditional and stereotypical view of gender roles in the couple, the family and in society at large.

2. Eager social climbers seeking admiration from everyone (in reaction to their awareness of their low socio-economic status).

3. A feeling that they have little control over their lives, that they don't fit into today's world and consequently, a marked retreat to traditional social values as a bulwark against a society that is passing them by.

They also tend to value mainly the members of their own ethnic group. Noteworthy, too, is the over-representation of immigrants, especially those most inclined to identify with traditional values.

We can deduce that for these men, a woman is a possession, an object they hope to possess, a marker of social status and their standing with others (just like a house, a car, designer clothes, fancy electronics, etc.).

When it is impossible to acquire the object in question (women), they feel stigmatized and powerless (no control) and feel that it is legitimate to blame women for their situation. Thus, their sense of exclusion leads them to lash out.

Moreover, because of their traditionalism, they consider women to be socially inferior to men and unjustified in rejecting them. They believe that women should be subject to the desires, needs and dictates of men!

Consequently, these incels are desperately angry with women who refuse to submit, dismissing them as rabid feminists who have forgotten their place or lost their sense of their supposed lot in life (who exactly are the rabid ones here?)-their fury giving rise to all the vociferous outrages found on these web-based incel communities.

This unfortunate phenomenon slots perfectly into the long list of collateral damage that our society inflicts in the course of its development: baldly put, our society produces rejects. As I have stressed time and time again in my blog, for many, our society is changing too fast and not everyone can keep up. Based on our various indicators, we regularly produce numbers showing that approximately one in three Canadians feel this way. Social disaffection, aimlessness, the impression of living in an exclusionist Darwinist society, a cynical attitude toward elites: it manifests in multiple ways.

In such an environment, how can men who feel excluded from society be expected to have enough self-confidence to even know how to speak properly to women? Hence, their feelings of rejection.

A reflection on educate and the social-engagement of organizations

What kind of education would help these angry men? I don't want to appear too defeatist, but I believe that by a certain age, this kind of mindset tends to crystallize in a person's character (although it's hard to pin down exactly at what age this happens) and when it does, there's not much to be done.

But for younger people, and precisely because this phenomenon is more prevalent in this age group, education to counter the development of such ideas about male/female relationships could prove effective. Teaching young men how to respect women and themselves should certainly be considered in light of this phenomenon.

In the sex-education lesson plans in schools (where sex-ed is actually taught), there should be a chapter on this issue. If you can get to children early enough, we may be able to avoid these repercussions altogether.

For all the brands, companies and organizations looking for a social-engagement project, here is a very good cause to get involved in: teaching young men how to respect women and themselves.

If you are at all concerned about the kind of society taking shape before our very eyes, this is definitely worth considering!

Mozart's Don Giovanni

For my musical clip, I've chosen an excerpt appropriate to Marc-André Sabourin's thesis. Based on his categories, we can easily classify Don Giovanni as a pickup artist.

This piece, "Fin ch'han dal vino," shows Don Giovanni bubbling with excitement at the prospect of seducing all the young women attending the ball he is organizing on his property! With so many conquests that his valet has to keep a catalogue of them, Don Giovanni prepares to lure as many women as possible to his party. Nevertheless, this is one of the finest arias in the repertoire, brilliantly performed by Bryn Terfel.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Don Giovanni, Bryn Terfel, Renée Flemming, Ferruccio Furlanetto, Solveig Kringelborn, etc., James Levine, The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus, Deutsche Grammophon, New York, 2000.

Do you believe in the ecological apocalypse? - And The Twilight of the Gods by Richard Wagner

Categories: On my radar this week

Posted on 09-26-19 at 3:39 p.m.

Three out of four people in Canada (77 %) believe that we are in the process of destroying the planet!

And not only is this unfortunate view beginning to gain consensus among the Canadian population, but the proportion of people who believe it has been increasing steadily and consistently for the last six years (from 61% in 2013)!

In this week of global mobilization on climate issues, an analysis of Canadian public opinion on this matter seemed particularly relevant to me.

Even though the opinions of climate sceptics occasionally pop up in the media and certain politicians try to diminish the importance of climate issues (when faced with short-term economic priorities, for instance), Canadians, for their part, are more and more convinced that human activity is playing a very detrimental, even hostile, role vis-à-vis the planet. The graph below illustrates the rise of this viewpoint in public opinion.

From 2013 to 2019, the proportion of people in the country who agree with the statement "I really believe that the way we consume and live is leading to the complete destruction of the planet" has risen from 61% to 77% (a proportion that now stands at 81% in Quebec and 76% in English Canada, the latter being consistent in every province outside Quebec). A very strong statement that could have elicited more restraint by respondents, which indicates how serious and troubling Canadians consider the situation.

Moreover, during the same period (from 2013 to 2019), the proportion of the population who believe that "the world is heading for disaster: we will not make it through the next 10 or 20 years without major upheavals" has risen from 54% to 60%! This is not about a few "collapsologists" harping on their vision of a disintegrating civilization: we're talking about three out of five people in the country!

Nevertheless,  I want to point out that there is a sizable difference between those who "totally agree" with these statements and those who "somewhat agree."

Of those 77% of Canadians who agree with the statement that "we are in the process of  destroying everything," the majority (50%) "somewhat agree," while only half of this proportion ( 27%) "totally agree" (31% in Quebec). Which is really not surprising, given the  strength of the statement.

A call to action?

Such results might lead one to believe that-similar to the current mobilization of young people to force institutions to commit to saving the planet-the people concerned about the planet's degradation would try to take some "lifesaving" action.

However, another of our indicators shows that the population has not yet massively adopted new, more ecological habits. In fact, as the following chart shows, only 32% of Canadians say they are doing something concrete to reduce their impact on the environment (I am only accounting for those who "totally agree" because to "somewhat agree" to do something in a survey is not very convincing!)

Perhaps not everyone is fully aware of or informed about everything they can take to reduce their carbon footprint. What's more, many people believe that large corporations are the main culprits, that our entire fossil-fuel-based economy is to blame for our ecological woes, and that individuals on their own can't do much.

On this issue, the generational differences are striking and eloquent. While 27% of Canadians believe that we are destroying everything on the surface of the planet, this proportion rises to 35% among 18-34 year-olds and falls to 21% among those 55 and older. Young people are therefore more firmly convinced that our way of life is profoundly detrimental to the planet.

On the other hand, although 32% of Canadians say they are doing something concrete to reduce their impact on the environment, this proportion drops to 28% among 18- to 34-year-olds, while rising to 38% among those 55 and older (a 10-point difference between these two large generational groups!)

Young people are therefore more likely to believe that the planet is doomed, but much less likely to do something about it!

But we can't put all young people in the same basket. This week, huge numbers of them will denounce institutional inaction to our environmental problems. But in the general population, young people are less eager to take personal action, which is not necessarily a contradiction, since they believe that the fault lies with the big economic players who are not sufficiently regulated.

Very similar visions of life and personal values

Those most inclined to believe that the planet is doomed and those who say they are doing things to limit their impact on the environment, as well as the youngest and the oldest respondents on these issues, have very similar values ​​and mental postures.

Basically, all of these individuals are deeply motivated by a keen need for personal development. They share the feeling that they have undeniable but underutilized personal potential and need to push themselves to their limits, but they feel blocked by societal constraints. They see the climatic sword of Damocles as an obstacle that is slowing down their momentum in life.

On the other hand, what distinguishes young people from the older people, from those who are doing something to reduce their carbon footprint from those who are less active, is their critical attitude to large corporations, which leads them to express infinitely more virulent attitudes toward companies, who they hold responsible for all of the planet's environmental problems (not to mention the social problems for which they are also responsible).

Trends that will certainly change society and our priorities!

These apparent contradictions and divergences should dissipate in the coming years. The steady rise in our survey indicators goes hand in hand with the increasing prominence the media is giving to the planet's ecological problems and the scientific information on the subject. And we don't expect the importance the media gives to these issues will diminish in the coming years. Everything leads us to suppose that people's awareness of these issues will continue to evolve. New generations are bound to be even more concerned as environmental problems worsen each year (Greta Thunberg is only 16 years old).

Not all Canadians troubled by with these issues will be out on the streets on September 27, on the day of a UN General Assembly, but awareness is marching forward and it would be very surprising if it fizzled out.

People will increasingly demand that institutions and companies make significant commitments to these solving these problems. They will demand concrete actions. They will also want them to help people make choices and embrace more ecological lifestyles. Ultimately to decarbonise our economies (with realistic deadlines, of course).

Brands, companies and institutions: the threats and the opportunities

Companies and brands will have to act. They have no choice. Products brought to market, as well as their manufacture and supply chains, must be carbon neutral. And leadership will pay off. The first to embrace the movement will be rewarded. Just as those who ignore it will be penalized.

The decarbonisation of the economy will create enormous commercial and economic opportunities, just as it will for the individuals who join this movement.

Governments will also have to act. They will have to regulate more, notably by putting in place truly effective carbon taxes that will have a real impact and help companies transform themselves.

The current crisis and the ones to come have one positive aspect: they will be engines of change.

Götterdämmerung by Richard Wagner (The Twilight of the Gods, the last opera in The Ring of the Nibelung)

For my operatic clip of the week, I find myself turning again to Götterdämmerung by Wagner. When it comes to apocalypse, this opera is the quintessential piece, the ultimate metaphor for the destruction of the world caused by greed and heedlessness.

Here, the apocalypse comes at the end of The Ring cycle, in the last production of the Metropolitan Opera of New York, directed by Robert Lepage. It is also the scene in which the famous sinister ring is returned to its guardians at the bottom of the Rhine.

Richard Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen, Debora Voigt, Jay Hunter Morris, Hans-Peter Koning, Waltraude Meier, Irin Paterson, Wendy Bryn Harmer, The Metropolitain Opera Orchestra and Chorus, Fabio Luisi (Cond.), Robert Lepage (Prod.), Deutsche Grammophon, New York, 2012.

Are you prepared to make an effort to reduce your ecological footprint? – And Twilight of the Gods by Richard Wagner

Categories: On my radar this week

Posted on 06-27-19 at 3:45 p.m.

One in three Canadians (32%) say they are strongly committed to doing whatever they can!

But what is even more striking is that this proportion was only one in four (25% in 2013) barely six years ago and has been rising steadily ever since!

With awareness comes mobilization, as people become increasingly involved in a societal project at the level of their personal habits and social commitment.

Moreover, if we add in the people who "somewhat" agree with the above statement, we get nine out of ten Canadians (86%)!-numbers that are comparable across all regions of the country, including Quebec. However, people undoubtedly feel social pressure when they answer these types of questions: it would be embarrassing to admit that they are doing nothing at all! That is why we believe that people who tell that us that they totally agree are more "reliable" when it comes to correctly measuring this type of behaviour. Be that as it may, the growing awareness of today's ecological issues represents a tremendous opportunity for individuals and society as a whole, for businesses, brands and institutions.

The Millennials?

As I have already mentioned in some of my previous posts, I keep hearing people harp on the unique characteristics of this new Millennial generation and its much vaunted ecological and social engagement. Once again, the table below completely contradicts this perception. Among those who are making an effort to reduce their environmental impact, the younger age groups are clearly under-represented compared to people 55 and older (a 10-point difference between these generations).

This is not to say that young people are unaware of current ecological problems, but let's stop pretending that they are the champions of this cause (without, however, dismissing the subgroups of very committed young people).

Note, too, that women are much more engaged on this issue than men (a 10-point difference: 26% and 36% for men and women, respectively).

Values, motivations and in-depth reasons behind this environmental commitment

An astonishing cocktail of motivations underlies people's desire to take concrete action to reduce their personal impact on the environment. While saving the planet is not the only reason, it is a very important one (those who believe that "the way we consume and live is leading to the complete destruction of the planet" has risen from 61% to 77% from 2014 to 2019).

We find a keen sense of social responsibility, a sensitivity to others, a willingness to act for the good of one's community and help other people. They are directing their environmental actions as much to benefit their community as the planet itself.

In the same context, the family also plays a very important role: what kind of world are we leaving to our children; what kind of legacy are we bequeathing to them ("Mad Max")? Proponents of environmental protection feel a responsibility to act now, before it is too late, to ensure that future generations can live in decent ecological conditions.

We also find a personal consideration in reaction to the current ecological issues. It's as if people feel that they cannot flourish fully while our ecosystems and resources are being threatened or destroyed. Our findings indicate a desire to do better, a feeling that we have missed the boat and must step up.

And, of course, people are concerned about their personal health and public health. Information about the health problems caused by environmental and climatic degradation is increasing and people are becoming more aware of it.

A call to action!

A direct consequence of this trend is a call to action to companies, brands, governments and institutions! Even though individuals are willing to make an effort on their own, they are aware that their impact is limited and therefore want to see organizations, which their much greater resources, get involved.

From our consumer segmentation work published several months ago, it is clear that about 55% of consumers, for various reasons, want to incorporate ecologically and socially responsible consumption practices into their lives. The rise in the willingness of people to embrace lifestyle habits that reduce their environmental impact is accompanied by a desire to see companies do likewise.

There is certainly an opportunity for business to take concrete action, to provide consumers and citizens with the means and tools to make a significant impact on the environment. For some specific markets and consumer segments, taking action is urgent. Companies need to listen and offer solutions.

This trend also affects governments. Increasingly, governments will be expected to act, invest, and support initiatives that catalyze the effort that citizens are prepared to make at a personal level.

In previous posts, I have frequently underlined how important it is for businesses and institutions to adopt socially responsible policies and practices. The trends we are watching indicate that even more action in this regard is needed.

There is definitely a social movement under way, and I see nothing on the horizon that could possibly stop it. Fortunately, it represents as promising an opportunity for businesses and institutions as for consumers and citizens.

Götterdämmerung by Richard Wagner (Twilight of the Gods, the fourth and final opera of Der Ring des Nibelungen)

Yes, I know. I keep revisiting Wagner's Ring cycle! But for this post, the finale of this opera seemed more appropriate than any other opera clip. Particularly this performance conducted by Kupfer-Barenboim, at the 1991 Bayreuth Festival,.

If one of the main motivations for incorporating lifestyle habits that reduce our impact on the environment is to save the planet from an ecological apocalypse, we find ourselves, at the end of Wagner's Ring, at the end of the world due to the megalomania of the gods-a metaphor for our obsession with growth at the expense of our ecosystems.

What's brilliant about the staging here is that people are watching the end of the world on TV! Note: this work was produced 10 years before September 11, 2001!

Richard Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen, Tomlinson, Jerusalem, Kang, Von Kannen, Evans, Brinkmann, etc., Kupfer, Barenboim, Bayreuther Festspiel, Teldec, Kultur, 1992.

Are we selling refrigerators to Eskimos? Or branding: Value added or evil bait? – And Siegfried by Richard Wagner

Categories: On my radar this week

Posted on 04-30-19 at 9:32 a.m.

The power of brands

The topic of this week's blog post came to me after I had to create the table below. Even though I have been doing this job for more than 30 years, I am still fascinated when I encounter such phenomena!

When you look at this table, it is easy to see that these companies are selling much more than weather-appropriate clothing and accessories. Consumers who have purchased The North Face brand of products over the last year, for example, index much higher (at 159) on risk-taking to achieve their goals or simply to experience excitement! The same obtains for the need to set motivating and difficult challenges (at 141), and their willingness to bend rules and regulations to get what they want (at 117).

But what does a jacket or a pair of boots have to do with personal achievement and transgression?

That's exactly what the "brand experience" is all about. When you buy a brand's products, you are not merely fulfilling a utilitarian need. A brand is a promise, a guarantee, but also, more than ever, a lifestyle, a mental space.

The advertising and promotion done by the brands in the table above has been very successful in associating them in the minds of consumers with a lifestyle and motivations geared towards self-actualization (at the cost of taking risks and transgressing norms). These brands have managed to convince these consumers that wearing their brands lets them fantasize about the lifestyles and mentalities that these brands evoke. As if, just by wearing these clothes, they can join, in some small way, the ranks of the "transgressive achievers"! And it works! (Just read the indices on the table).

Not all consumers who wear the clothing of these brands share this kind of fantasy, but there are enough of them to indicate that the positioning of these brands is working perfectly.

And of course, we are paying for it! These brands can afford to charge more for their products because, in addition to clothing us, they make us dream and fantasize; they excite our imaginations! All that comes with a price tag!

Think of Jimmy Chin's exploits for The North Face or the myth surrounding Patagonia's founder Yvon Chouinard, or the political, controversial and provocative position of Nike, when they made a deal with NFL player Colin Kaepernick. Such techniques work perfectly to fire the imaginations of a substantial number of transgressive achievers across the country and incite them to buy clothing or accessories from these brands so that they can participate in and feel apart of these mythologies!

A social as well as market division

However, this is an issue on which citizens and consumers are divided, in this era of exaggerated consumerism versus moderation associated with financial and social responsibility.

It is undoubtedly due to the success of their advertising and marketing stratagems that companies are accused of creating needs and of "selling refrigerators to Eskimos"!

Many consumers (and citizens) will argue that if we already own practical clothing, companies are creating needs by offering new styles that we associate with seductive fantasy worlds. This brings us back to No Logo, the powerful book by Toronto journalist Naomi Klein (Random House, 1999).

In my November blog post on consumer segmentation in Canada, I showed how the distribution of consumer segments is perfectly aligned with this market and societal divide (based on the personal values of this segmentation). More than two Canadian consumers out of five (44% and exactly the same proportion in Quebec), whom we dubbed The Enthusiasts and The Proud, revel in brand mythologies and want their experiences to reflect the brands' symbolism, imagery and fantasy.

On the other hand, nearly two out of five Canadians (37% and, again, the same proportion in Quebec), The Idealists and The Responsible, vehemently denounce the creation of false needs by brands in order to make us buy, which increases our carbon footprint and the amount of waste we produce.

Located between the two extremes, The Worried (19%) select their purchases solely on price, and are less sensitive to the symbolic universe of the brands, although they are not adverse to comfort as a purchasing criterion.

Thus, we find a marked split between those who are sold dreams along with practical considerations and those who are scandalized and denounce the creation of false needs.

The table blow clearly illustrates this split, while recalling some details of my November blog post ...

In the defense of dreams

Allow me to take a position here, even at the risk of making enemies or being accused of being a mouthpiece for the brands, given that I have been earning my living helping them to create and maintain their mythologies (notably, with the help of all these consumer values and hot buttons).

The question is: Why shouldn't the emotional gratification created by the mythological universe of a brand be as legitimate as the practical use of a product? For example, when I wear a coat from The North Face, I feel a bit like a bold mountaineer when I "climb" the main staircase up Mount Royal at the end of Peel Street in Montreal, and the coat still costs less than a trip to Mount Meru in the Himalayas (and it is certainly less risky, even if the brand experience makes me fantasize about the risk - some people find the main staircase up Mount Royal rather daunting, just the same!).

We will never stop people from fantasizing, from imagining at times that they are superheroes or whatever else. Even if brands do facilitate these imaginary trips, it is still better than taking drugs! My example was clothing, but these types of symbolic mechanisms are at work in all types of markets.

The health of our economies depends primarily on domestic consumption, and the strength of the brands supports this. But this strength comes from their mythologies. Each brand must create and maintain a mythology, in symbiosis with the values of its consumers (the same obtains for ecologists).

Brands and social responsibility

That said, brands can make us dream at the same time as encouraging responsible consumption practices. Think of Patagonia, which tells consumers not to buy clothes if they do not need them. This brand even encourages us to repair our coats with duct tape instead of buying a new one (note that, of all the brands, Patagonia does the most to encourage fantasizing).

For me, I find "the dream" less of an issue than a brand's ethical codes and practices of corporate social responsibility. Brands must incorporate social responsibility practices in their commercial activities, since consumers are increasingly demanding it.

If they do it right, if they do it seriously and authentically, the dream component will become more and more socially acceptable and legitimate.

P.S.: Very sad news ...

Last week, The North Face announced the death of three of its mountain climbers, who were attempting to ascend the face of Howse Peak, the highest mountain in the Waputik chain of the Canadian Rockies. Their bodies were recovered on Sunday, April 21. Austrians David Lama and Hansjörg Auer and American Jess Roskelley went missing on April 17 following an avalanche.

These mountaineers were part of The North Face's Global Athlete Team, athletes who help promote the brand's mythology. The face of Howse Peak is very isolated and difficult to climb. They took risks and, this time, luck was not on their side.

Siegfried by Richard Wagner

For my lyrical clip to accompany this post, I turned to the idea of self-actualization evoked by the brands we analyzed and the superman archetype they use for inspiration. One of the most inspired incarnations of the superman myth in opera is undoubtedly the character of Siegfried in the opera of the same name by Richard Wagner.

In this clip, we find Siegfried forging the sword that he believes will make him all powerful and let him regain his freedom and conquer the world, thus incarnating the triumphant vitality of humanity (Germanic, in this case).

Wagner: Siegfried, Siegfried Jerusalem, Hildegard Behrens, James Morris, Otto Schenk (Director), James Levine (Conductor), Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus, Deutsche Grammophon, New York, 2002.