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Alain Giguère

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Prêt à manger - Branding & the zeitgeist

Categories: Food for thought

Posted on 09-30-10 at 3:24 p.m.

Image for Prêt à manger - Branding & the zeitgeist

Every so often, as a marketer and consumer, I run into a brand and can’t help but feel that they just get it.  I’m talking here about something that transcends the 4 Ps. Something more profound. The feeling that certain brands are just cosmically aligned with the root values of a marketplace, at the right time and in the right place. Such things can only be half planned, the other half is pretty much serendipity.

One such brand is PRET. Undeniably, when one walks into a PRET venue the machinations of a well-oiled, large-scale marketing conglomerate are there for all to see. Despite this, the overriding spirit of the place and the experience it provides are altogether different. It brilliantly taps into a cohesive set of values that speak to authenticity, transparency, local pride, health and good taste.
When I look at PRET through my ethnographic/socio-cultural tinted glasses, I see a brand that has marvellously identified and delivers on core “counter-tendency” values developed in response to hectic urban living. In our trend parlance, I am referring to needs & values such as:

- Scepticism towards big business
- Community Spirit/Local
- Effort for Health
- Control & Autonomy
- Brand Authenticity

These brand values permeate every aspect of PRET’s retail experience, from the mission/philosophy statements posted on the walls, to the blurbs on the napkins (“Just Made”) and coffee sleeves (“Just Roasted”).
In my humble opinion, this brand is more wholesome than McDonalds, more progressive and witty than Starbucks and simply nailing the right socio-cultural hot buttons.

Investigate the socio-cultural meaning of your brand.


GARDENING: the road to self-actualization

Categories: Food for thought

Posted on 09-30-10 at 3:07 p.m.

Image for GARDENING: the road to self-actualization

Socio-cultural observations reflecting the zeitgeist

Growing up as the son of honest, hardworking Italian immigrants, the vegetable garden was a ubiquitous presence in my life. A symbol of their rural past, a source of fresh ingredients, a smart way to save a few bucks, the fulfillment of basic level Maslowian instincts (you know: food, shelter…) - they’re all logical and valid motives driving this seemingly innocent activity.
Let’s fast-forward a few years.  Next, let’s change setting - say, some of the hippest neighbourhoods in Montreal (Mile End, Le Plateau). In this context, gardening has been imbued with far more weight and meaning than the humble yet noble immigrant pursuit, prompted by economic necessities or Old World values.

Today, gardening has taken on a spiritual and political gravitas. It has become the symbol of the urbanite’s quest for authenticity, the impulse to reconnect with nature, a desire for deceleration. On a grander scale, the act of gardening has become a noble gesture, a nod to Mother Earth, an expression of ecological sensitivity.

As such, the very image of a garden is loaded with new socio-cultural meanings and values. It can still be linked to notions of sustenance and subsistence, but interestingly, it has also come to symbolize higher order and aspirational values such as autonomy, new social responsibility, ecological awareness, spiritual questing and the like.
The rise of locavores, open air food markets, farmer’s markets, community gardens and the 20 mile diet all point to a fundamental shift in mores.

In this age of go go go, you would think that our time-strapped consumers would balk at the idea of going out of their way to purchase fresh, local produce, much less grow it themselves. Something deeper is at play here, possibly indicating a malaise with the accelerated pace of progress and consumption, possibly a quest for meaning, a need for roots.

Certainly, the trends we track point to those phenomena fuelling the behavior.
To learn more about consumer values and their implications for your marketing opportunities, don’t hesitate to contact us.


Will the beer brand with the biggest cojones please stand up?

Categories: Food for thought

Posted on 09-30-10 at 12:20 p.m.

Image for Will the beer brand with the biggest cojones please stand up?

As a former category insider, I was privy to the strategies and trajectories of almost every “relevant” beer brand on the Canadian landscape for well over a decade. As a result, I feel well-placed to point out the lucrative positioning opportunity awaiting the beer brand that can align itself with the dominant values of today’s young adult beer drinker. 

My distance from the beer industry has given me a refreshed perspective and a sorely needed reprieve from the hegemonic forces of groupthink – forces that pull brands inexorably into overcrowded positioning terrain and towards the nullity of advertising cliché.  Clearly, this is self-defeating.

More importantly, as CEO of CROP, the research organization behind Canada’s longest-running Social Values Program, I have repeatedly noted a glaring disconnect between the values of young adult male drinkers and the experiences offered to them by beer brands. While the audience shows a thirst for brands with more verve, attitude and edge, the industry serves up safe, interchangeable and played-out expressions of male bonding.

How many beer ads – which often feel like 30-second gag reels (some funny, most… not so much) – will the industry churn out to an increasingly tuned-out audience?

We all know the recipes: brand as champion (i.e. guy chooses beloved brew over the bombshell)… product as social lubricant (i.e.  the rallying force/binding agent for male bonding ritual)… thirst quenching cues (i.e. the cold, sweaty bottle, the spiralling pour shot)… the consumer has seen it all, probably a thousand times.

I’ve listened on countless occasions as beer lovers dismissed the formulaic character of beer ads, during focus groups, deep-dive one-on-ones or ethnographic investigations. I’ve also observed these sentiments systematically reflected in quantitative data. Let’s face it, the formula is generating diminishing returns. Brands that fail to acknowledge this are whistling right past a genuine marketing opportunity.

Granted, the nature of the category (the CRTC exercises power over creative expression), imposes limitations. Nevertheless, on the contemporary landscape of interactive media, viral communication and word-of-mouth, beer marketers have an array of powerful new levers to pull.

And out there is today’s young adult beer consumer, a far more transgressive and adrenaline-fuelled character than the archetype served up in mainstream beer ads (i.e. the Dork / the Fast Talker / the Average Joe / the Ladies Man).

The proof is the pudding. Shown above (in picture insert) is what we like to call our Testosterone Index (based on a combination of trends we track including Attraction for Crowds, Sexual Permissiveness, Attraction to Violence, Vitality, Pursuit of Intensity and Emotion and Penchant for Risk Taking). It compares three groups; the adult Canadian population, 18-24 year old non-beer drinkers and 18-24 year old beer drinkers. The verdict … beer drinkers have an appetite for pushing the envelope.

Of course, it is true that conveying intensity, attitude and edge carries its fair share of risk (hey, nobody wants to relate to a blowhard, or worse yet, an overbearing dude who can’t hold his liquor). However, other brands have worked this terrain to brilliant ends. I can think of countless brands that mix healthy doses of transgression, dissent, urban cool and aspirational value to achieve pop cultural relevance (Spike TV, Doc Martens, PSP, Red Bull, Harley Davidson, UFC, Jack Daniels and Nike, to name a few).

Right now, Budweiser and Molson Export would seem to roam closest to that Promised Land. In my humble opinion, both still fall short – not for any lack of strategic vision, but because of the weight of their existing equities and image assets. In the case of Bud, the brand is simply too big and mainstream to risk marginalizing itself in any way.

And so, a golden opportunity awaits the brand with the savvy to become super-relevant to a group of drinkers looking to have their values, attitudes and self-identity reinforced. The brand that successfully appropriates or, better yet, enables such an experience stands to benefit handsomely.

Contact us to discuss the marketing opportunities within your reach.


LIFE to IDEAS...Graffiti

Categories: Food for thought

Posted on 09-30-10 at 11:19 a.m.

Image for LIFE to IDEAS...Graffiti

Graffiti IS:

Youth Expression and Rebellion – a mode of self-expression, a creative and defiant act (it is still illegal, you know) fused into one… the universal lingua franca of urban youth

A modernity and relevance cue - a cultural meme appropriated by purveyors of upscale culture to broadcast their “cool” and affiliate themselves with urban street cred

An act of civil disobedience – a marking symbolizing disengagement from good public conduct, an expression of discord

If you are in the business of consumption and culture, this idea has various dimensions and implications.  THAT’S the story we will tell.



Categories: Food for thought

Posted on 09-30-10 at 11:16 a.m.

Image for LIFE to IDEAS…Banks

Banks ARE:

A springboard, a lever to achieve one’s dream; benevolent facilitators offering the assistance and expertise required to fulfill one’s ambitions.

A holding tank and a physical place for monetary exchange: the place where money is stored for safe keeping; a location where deposits, withdrawals, payments, investments and financial transactions are undertaken.

The “bad guys”. Big business at its worse. The institution which gouges the little guys with fees, and worse yet, the place where abuses and crimes are perpetrated.

If you are in the banking industry, you should know which idea is associated most with you.  THAT’S the story we will tell.