On my radar this week

Alain Giguère

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45% of Canadians consider consumption one of life’s greatest pleasures! (Plus “The Jewel Song” sung by Bianca Castafiore)

Categories: On my radar this week

Posted on 03-03-17 at 1:17 p.m.

Consumption as a unique source of gratification!

Whether it's a new 4K TV, a designer handbag or pair of shoes, the newest smartphone on the market, or something as simple as the latest recording by a popular artist or a great bottle of wine-whatever the purchase, when you dig a little deeper into people's psyche, you find that they get a significant amount of gratification from the experience (to various degrees, of course).

What's more, the marketplace constantly-and at an increasingly frenetic pace-floods us with new offers, innovations and gadgets, improved products, new services, new designs, all promising us a new experience, etc. In short, a continual bombardment of stimulation.

The consumer marketplace is proving to be tremendously resilient. Given the continuing rise in consumer debt, strict economic logic would dictate a weakening in household consumption (given the aging population, fairly flat income growth and rising debt levels, etc.). But no, the marketplace is holding its own; retail sales (including all forms of distributions) are not doing too badly at all.

It is precisely because other factors (beyond simple economics) are at work that the consumption of goods and services is so robust: consumer values, consumer motivations and hot button are playing a leading role.

The joy of consumption-one of the most influential consumer motivations

Beyond the strictly utilitarian function of consumption, a strong desire for gratification is motivating the purchase and use of goods and services. One of our studies found that 45% of Canadians agree with the notion that spending, buying themselves something new, is one of life's greatest pleasures! That's almost one in every two consumers in the country!

The Province of Québec, with its legendary joie de vivre, ranks in first place with 52%, while Alberta comes in last with 35%. Millennials (18 to 34 years of age) have the highest proportion of enthusiastic consumers (54%).

Underlying this enthusiastic desire to consume is an impressive cocktail of values and hot buttons. While they can vary by product category, some are universal, particularly the need for status experiences ("Because you're worth it," says L'Oréal). The product, the service, the brand and the experience serve to enhance the self-worth of the person buying it, owning it, "wearing" it. This is what is really underlies today's enthusiasm for consumption. People want to prove to themselves and to others that they are indeed "worth it." Their identity is predicated on these products, services and brands; they feel that others see them as more important because of these products/brands. And since new products are always arriving, they have to constantly keep up with their acquisitions to maintain their status.


Click here for detailed results

Another motivator is undoubtedly the "game" aspect, particularly with technology. People are looking for playful devices, interfaces and experiences. They want to transform the smallest daily ritual into a game, an entertainment opportunity ("gamification").

Social and ecological responsibility is also becoming a key purchasing criterion for consumers (at comparable value and price points).

Finally, several other hot buttons motivate consumption but they tend to be associated with specific product categories, so I will not discuss them here.

Branding opportunities

First and most importantly, you need to incorporate status into the brand experience: privileges, prestige and other experiential elements that make consumers feel proud to associate themselves with the brand, to "wear" it, to associate their personal identity with it and project it to others. Loyalty programs, when properly designed, can play an important role here by offering unique privileges based on customer loyalty. The more prestige you can associate with the brand experience, the more you are playing to this consumer hot button.

The challenge is also to make it fun, playful. Every brand has the possibility of becoming a "media" so think about entertaining while informing. The interfaces and technology that frame the brand experience must be playful and fun.

Finally, the brand as well as the company it represents must be socially and ecologically responsible. These criteria must be part of the brand promise.


Click here to consult values profile

"The Jewel Song" from Gounod's Faust

One of the most beautiful operatic examples of enhancing a person's image through the products she "wears" is "The Jewel Song" (L'Air des bijoux) from the opera Faust, by French composer Charles-François Gounod. Anyone familiar with The Adventures of Tintin from their youth will recognize it as the aria sung by the diva Bianca Castafiore in The Calculus Affair (L'Affaire Tournesol), which so annoyed Captain Haddock. The words could not be more evocative: "Ah! I laugh to see myself so beautiful in this mirror. Is it you, Marguerite? ... No! it's no longer you! ... It's the daughter of a king ..."

We all dream-don't we?-that what we buy will make us look like the daughter or son of a king!

Faust, Charles Gounod: Jonas Kaufmann, René Pape, Marina Poplavskaya, Orchestra & Chorus of The Metropolitan Opera, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, New York, 2014, Decca.

82% of Canadians would like a more intense connection with nature (A shout out to Mahler's Symphony No. 3!)

Categories: On my radar this week

Posted on 02-24-17 at 5:03 p.m.

May the force be with you!

The idea for this post came to me while grocery shopping. As I strolled the aisles of a "health food" (or so the banner promised) store, I was struck by the number of products claiming to be "superfoods": chia seeds high in Omega 3s, calcium and iron; Maca root bursting with antioxidants (an aphrodisiac to boot, it seems); Goji berries, another source of antioxidants long associated with than eternal life no less, in Oriental lore. The products on these shelves promised to make you (or rather, me!) 20 again.

Far be it for me to discredit the claims of these alternative products, although the scientific jury is still out on many of them (check them out on Google). But the appeal of these products derives from a strong trend in the marketplace and in popular culture. We are clearly seeing an increase in people's desire for a more intense connection with nature, to its still poorly understood virtues, in the hope of attaining greater harmony with all living things.

This reminds me of an article I read recently on the BBC website on the health benefits of feeling closer to nature. Scientifically conducted studies have concluded that exposure to nature confers physical and mental health benefits, such as lowering high blood pressure, improving chronic fatigue, anxiety, attention deficit, and much more.

To experience these benefits, you don't need to move to the country. Simply being in contact with nature is enough (with parks, trees, gardens, animals, etc.). But even more so, the crucial factor appears to be one's attitude or mentality: the desire to feel a part of nature, believing in something like a cosmic force in nature to which we all belong without being entirely conscious of it.

Biomanism: a fascinating and promising phenomenon

In Canada, 27% of the population passionately shares this biomanism mentality-wanting to be in a symbiotic relationship with nature, with all living things-while another 55% are biomanism enthusiasts; hence, a total of 82% of the population! This mentality, which we have been measuring for several years, is about mankind's not dominating but being a part of nature, living in symbiosis with it.

We find little demographic variation in this phenomenon. Women, lower-income individuals, people with teens living at home, and residents of towns or rural areas are slightly stronger on biomanism, but the differences, even if significant, are nevertheless slight. Even on a regional and provincial level, there is little variation of note beyond the Maritimes being slightly stronger on biomanism.


Click here for detailed results

What sets biomanists apart are their values, motivations and hot buttons. Their connection with nature is synonymous with potential. They share the belief that there is something unrealized in them and that a greater symbiosis with nature, with the best that nature has to offer (the ecosystem, the natural environment, foods, etc.), would help bring out the best in them, aid their personal development, help them become more creative, have more control over their lives. Such beliefs seem consistent with the results of the studies cited in the BBC article mentioned above.

Branding opportunities

I see a vast marketing opportunity here! If we take only the most fervent biomanists into account, or 27% of the approximately 28 million adult Canadians, that's almost 7.6 million consumers! Products and services, foods, clothing (natural fibres and wearable technologies), applications, sports equipment, tourism, architectural projects, a new, reinvented urbanism: the possibilities are endless! The key, across all these categories, is to offer consumers (branded) experiences that reconnect them with nature, with symbiosis. In our current hyper-urbanised lives, this is more than an opportunity; it's a necessity, for reconnecting with life! These days, everyone is talking of smart cities; in my opinion, it would be equally opportune to promote "greener" cities.


Click here to consult values profile

Mahler's Third Symphony-a celebration of our union with nature

Many musical and lyrical works could illustrate symbiosis with nature but my choice is Gustave Mahler's Symphony No. 3-one of the jewels in the crown of Western music, a monumental pantheistic celebration of our relationship to nature! From an initial narrative structure evoking the biblical course of creation-"creationist," one might say-the musical framework seems totally devoid of any Eucharistic unction.

The final movement, in particular, celebrates the place of mankind in the cosmos. A symphonic fury bursts upon us, a wave of sound denoting the expansion of the universe, an orchestral flood, a wild force that catapults us into the cosmos, as if to remind us that our relationship with nature should inspire humility!

For you, I have selected the symphony's finale, under the direction of Claudio Abbado at the 2008 Lucerne Festival-a finale that moves us to consider our place in the universe.

Gustave Mahler, Symphonie No. 3, Claudio Abbado, Lucerne Festival Orchestra, 2008 Lucerne Festival, EuroArts.

One Canadian out of four is climate skeptic (and Wagner’s Das Rheingold Redux)

Categories: On my radar this week

Posted on 02-17-17 at 3:56 p.m.

When money trumps facts!

I will continue where I left off last week with more commentary on the Trump administration. This time, I am turning my attention to the men nominated to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Energy, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt and former Texas governor Rick Perry, respectively-two ardent Republicans whom I find intriguing.

When Mr. Trump announced their nominations, the American media decried their climate-change skepticism in light of their incipient responsibilities. Both men defended their positions, saying that they didn't totally deny the impact of human activity on climate change, but that it has been greatly exaggerated and that the science is far from conclusive on the subject. (More here).

During his campaign, even Mr. Trump publically stated on Twitter that "the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive."

Again, while we frequently hear these kinds of opinions emanating from the United States, I am very surprised that a significant proportion of Canadians share this point of view. Almost one in four Canadians (23%) believes that if the climate is changing, it is Nature's way and not dangerous for the Earth, and rejects the idea that climate change is caused by human activity. Nevertheless, about three out of four Canadians (77%) support the contrary view.

Also very interesting are the regional variations and demographics associated with climate skepticism. Alberta has the highest proportion of climate skeptics, at 35% of the population, with the lowest levels found in the Maritimes (15%) and Québec (17%). Men, people 45 to 54 years of age, low-income earners, technicians and people without a university education are the groups with the highest levels of climate skeptics.

There is obviously an economic factor underlying these finding. Feeling economically vulnerable has led these Canadians to filter the scientific information presented to them via abundant media coverage, and to take refuge in a less threatening point of view. Here too, as I suggested in my lead, money (financial considerations) trumps (the scientific) facts.


Click here for detailed results

As we know, much of Canada's GDP depends on fossil fuel, the main culprit of climate change. Those most convinced that human activity is responsible are the ones arguing for conversion to alternative energy sources, which would negatively impact jobs and economic activity in regions dependent on fossil-fuel industries. Mr. Trump understands this very well and has used it for political gain.

When we look at the personal values and mental postures of these climate skeptics, we find that they have a very conservative profile, dominated by a very Darwinian view of life today. They see the economy as a pitiless jungle where anyone can be thrown out at a drop of a hat, where you need to fight constantly to keep your place. Their conservatism is a self-protective reflex to make them invulnerable to information perceived as threatening.


Click here to consult values profile

An economic-solidarity and education challenge

How do you expect the country comes to terms with Alberta's anti-climate-change policies if a third of its population refuses to believe in climate change and feels economically threatened? Ditto for the country as a whole if every time we want to move ahead with alternative energy policies, one in four Canadians feels threatened.

Too often, the public assume that energy policies addressing climate change will take a heavy economic toll. A strategy to retrain and relocate the workforce needs to be at the centre of any energy vision (to mitigate the impact of the carbon tax, pipeline regulations, the development of green energy, etc.). Education and dissemination of scientific knowledge should also be included in these strategies.

I believe it is imperative for companies to be socially engaged, to play a key role in supporting the communities affected by energy strategies: with training and relocation of labour; with the education need to support multiple socio-community initiatives.

I believe we should view these findings as an opportunity for social and community action, rather than an opening for the kind of populist politics on display by the new American administration!

The theft of the Rhinegold, in the opera of the same name, as the initial violation of the ecological and cosmic order

As I discussed in my first blog post, Wagner's opera, Das Rheingold, is a good illustration of this societal phenomenon, although in reverse, in that it represents the majority view (human activity as the cause of global warning).

Wagner's epic work, Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung), can be interpreted many ways.

But we can certainly give it an ecological interpretation. The Rhinegold in this narrative is a unifying life force, one that regulates harmony with the cosmos. The theft of the gold by the dwarf, Alberich (the Nibelung), jeopardizes this balance of life and nature, just as humanity's carbon footprint upsets the planet's harmony. The video clip shows us the theft of the gold in a production by Robert Lepage at the Met in New York in 2010. I see it as a metaphor for Man's excessive consumption of the planet's resources. (According to Global Footprint Network, on Monday, August 8, 2016, humanity had exhausted all the resources that the planet can renew in a year, and was therefore operating an ecological deficit for the rest of the year!

Wagner: Das Rheingold, James Levine, The Metropolitain Opera, produced by Robert Lepage, New York, 2010, Deutsche Grammophon.

40% of Canadians believe that life on Earth was created in six days (The ideal prelude to Wagner’s Das Rheingold!)

Categories: On my radar this week

Posted on 02-10-17 at 8 a.m.

Astounding findings

I have always been fascinated by the promises and expectations that come with new political administrations, particularly in Washington, D.C. But this year’s program is off the charts—and has got off to a roaring start! Aside from all the controversy surrounding the first days of this new administration, the personalities of Mr. Trump’s team deserve a close look. While no one’s role should be discounted, one especially colourful character is Ben Carson, Trump’s secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Dr. Carson, an eminent, retired neurosurgeon, had a long and accomplished career that earned him the highest professional distinctions. However, in politics, he has emerged as nothing short of distinctive. An ardent Seventh-day Adventist, he loudly proclaims his faith and his belief in creationism—a theory that maintains that life on earth was created by God in six days, as stated in the Bible—and considers the Big Bang theory and Darwinian evolution the work of the Devil!
(For more: http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2015/09/ben-carson-creationism-six-days).

While it may be surprising to hear this kind of position in the United State, the extent of these same beliefs in Canada is astonishing. A CROP poll revealed that 40% of Canadians believe the Biblical version of creation in six days over Darwin and other theories of evolution! I’m stunned by the magnitude of this phenomenon: that’s two out of every five Canadians!

When we drill down by province, we find some regional variations: Québec and British Columbia number the fewest creationists (36% and 33%, respectively), while the most believers in the literal Biblical account are found in the Maritimes (49%) and Prairie Provinces (55%). Still, even in the most “skeptical” provinces, creationism represents the views of about one in every three individuals!

The sociodemographic findings come as less of a surprise. As one might expect, the Biblical account has more followers among older people (65 plus), residents of smaller towns or rural areas, and the poorest and least educated in the country.

Even among Millennials (18 to 34 years of age), one in three (34%) is a creationist.


Click here for detailed results

Frankly, our team was astounded by these findings. In an era where knowledge has never been more widespread, where information circulates freely and instantaneously on a multitude of platforms, this level of adherence to the Biblical version of creation is a tad shocking.

However, I believe it is more productive to try to understand the socioeconomic and sociocultural conditions that lead people to such beliefs instead of judging them.

Our era is not easy for everyone. Some find the challenges caused by the social and economic transformations harder than others. We know that believers in biblical creationism have great difficulty adapting to modern life and its risks. These individuals feel overwhelmed by the world around them, under personal threat, at a loss, without references to guide them.

The founding myths of our Judeo-Christian culture provide them with the comfort of meaning and certainty in the unsettling times they have to deal with.

One of most defining characteristics of creationists is how much they respect the traditional authority of institutions and leaders. In response to troubled times, they support strong, authoritarian leaders who can redress the situation. Populist political speeches telling them they’ve been abandoned by their institutions resonate with them. This is a theme of the new American administration, which was elected on a populist platform. Neither Canada nor Québec is immune to these political trends.


Click here to consult values profile

A call for solidarity

I sincerely believe that bridges need to be built to include populations having trouble adapting. Revaluating our democracy and institutions should be on the agenda of all parties on the social stage who are able to contribute to the conversation. A more inclusive vision and strategy for all citizens, especially those who feel left behind in the wake of current economic and technological disruptions, should be on the agenda of all public institutions in the country, as should initiatives of corporate social responsibility. Otherwise, we’re headed for political upheaval!

Richard Wagner’s Das Rheingold (The Rhinegold) creation of the universe overture

What better way to illustrate the theme of the origin of the universe, the world and life itself than with the overture to Wagner’s opera, Das Rheingold, which introduces Wagner’s epic tetralogy, Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung).

The orchestral overture to The Ring’s first opera expresses the birth of the universe. The first murmur in the void before creation, in muted E flat major, gives way to the world, to life, as the music grows in power to celebrate the arrival of the living.

The video clip I have selected comes from a performance of the opera in Valencia, Spain. The Ring was staged like a science-fiction movie, projecting the action in a faraway galaxy. As you can see, to illustrate the idea of the void before creation, Zubin Mehta conducted the orchestral opening in total darkness using a glowing red flashlight for a baton!

You may find five minutes a little long for a video clip on a blog, but the music is absolutely glorious. It is, after all, the creation of the universe. Something that took God six whole days!

Wagner: Das Rheingold, Zubin Mehta, La Fura dels Baus, Valencia, 2007, Unitel Classica.

CROP’s Study Results—and the Music that Echoes Them!

Categories: On my radar this week

Posted on 02-10-17 at 7 a.m.

Hello all,

Full disclosure—I have two passions that continue to affect me deeply: delving into the social phenomena and markets that typify our era, and music, especially opera. In coming weeks, I will share these passions with you and reveal what excites me.

My colleagues and I have the opportunity to study phenomena that define today’s world. Despite the uniqueness of some of these phenomena, they still contain a universal, timeless quality, especially for Western cultures and markets.

Music, particularly opera composed since the Romantic era, also expresses universal and timeless themes. My posts will therefore attempt to make connections between our present era and the exceptional heritage of Western music. In these posts, I will also share my reflections on the challenges we face today, in the hope that they will inspire your actions, your orientations and, ultimately, your strategies.

You can follow my posts on Twitter (@alaingiguere) or on LinkedIn.

I fervently hope that you will feel as passionate about these posts and musical excerpts as I do, and that you will be moved to buy the full musical piece to enjoy later!

Welcome to the conversation.

Until next time …

P.S. All my tweets and posts will be published in both French and English.

Alain Giguère
President, CROP Inc.
February 13, 2017