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Alain Giguère

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GARDENING: the road to self-actualization

Categories: Food for thought

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

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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.

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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.

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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.


LIFE to IDEAS...Coffee

Categories: Food for thought

Posted on 09-30-10 at 11:14 a.m.

Image for LIFE to IDEAS...Coffee

Coffee is more than a humble caffeinated drink.  Life has invested Coffee with multiple layers of meaning - and therefore, an array of codes, connotations and marketing opportunities.

When LIFE meets IDEAS, a compelling STORY is born.  Coffee IS:

Ritual & Comfort - a ritual that kicks off every day with reassuring familiarity and well-being

Art of Living - an urbane lifestyle expression, a facet of modern life, an epicurean experience

A Micropleasure - an escape from the daily grind, a moment of self-indulgence

A reflection of ethics - a first-line embodiment of consumers' one-world ethics; fair-trade, organics etc.

If you are in the coffee business, you should decide which facet of life your idea should leverage.

THAT'S the story we will tell.


State of the Union: Q & A with CROP’s dynamic duo

Categories: Food for thought

Posted on 09-30-10 at 9 a.m.

As the industry engages in soul-searching, CROP enthusiastically unveils its Life to Ideas brand proposition.  CROP’s dynamic duo, President Alain Giguère and CEO Carlo Bianchini, discusses the state of the research industry and the birth of Life to Ideas.

Q From where you sit … how is the research industry faring these days?

A – I think we’re living in what the Chinese proverb would describe as “interesting times.” Our industry seems to be drifting towards ‘commodification,’ which from our perspective is a dead end. This really isn’t CROP's point of view– it’s the sentiment echoed by ESOMAR, the global voice of our industry. Just look at the character of the headlines dominating Research World, ESOMAR’s fine monthly publication, and you’ll immediately sense that we are at a crossroads of sorts.  ESOMAR has even questioned whether the word ‘research’ should be reconsidered, given the degree to which it has been devalued in certain circles.

Q – How did it come to this?

A – Well, historically, research was the marketing function closest to the consumer. Research organizations had the means to reach the public and virtually held a monopoly on the tools used to measure their opinions, behaviours and deeper needs. To put it bluntly, those days are gone. Many organizations now have vast consumer databases AND the capability to mine information.

Technology is the great equalizer. It has provided marketers with the tools to develop, engage and maintain a dialogue with their consumers and prospects – think of websites, Facebook pages, Twitter, not to mention future permutations we can only dream of today. This combined with off the shelf apps such as Google Analytics and Survey Monkey, for example, have undeniably eroded the perceived value of our industry.

Q – The situation seems somewhat dire, wouldn’t you say?

A – Well, yes and no. We see it more like a blessing disguised as a curse. Call it a moment of truth, a spur for evolution and alchemy. Our industry must propel research into the realm of strategy, narrative, and insight. One of my more discerning clients once told me that he hired very high-priced marketing consultants for (insert ASTRONOMICAL dollar figure here) – a king’s ransom to a research organization. The kicker? He declared it was worth every penny.

That has to be our goal. We must become integral players in the process where value is created and recognized. In too many instances, the research team presents data and facts and heads back to the boiler room; then high-priced consultants and executive client marketing group start the major-league strategic work in earnest. We have to earn the right to sit at that table.

In order to get there, we need to think in holistic terms, to push beyond metrics, statistics and the lexicon that has governed our industry. We have to re-brand ourselves as the storytellers of our business.

Q – So, how does a research shop get a seat at that table?

A – For starters, we need to rethink and reconfigure the very nature of the ‘deliverable’. If our research output – for lack of a sexier term – doesn’t empower the client to make an important decision, or cast new light on a business issue or fuel the creative process… then it has fallen short of its true potential.

Researchers are sometimes guilty of bogging down in method and detail, of delivering information and calling it a day. In these days of Information Overload, information is crying out to be transformed into something more layered, more compelling – more valuable. Clients are starving for insights, not information. Answering the What is useful, but explaining Why is the catalyst, the source of true transformational ideas.

Q – Has it been easy to get your own team to buy into that vision?

A – In all honesty… it’s harder than anticipated although it’s not anyone’s particular fault. We must acknowledge that our industry has shaped the norms and philosophies that served it well for over 80 years; they simply need to be refreshed for the modern reality. Understandably, we sometimes need to ‘de-program’ some players. When I was starting out in research, I had a boss who would half-mockingly hold up a freshly bound report in the palm of his hand and affirm ‘Yup, this is worth (whatever value the project was sold)’. The implication was clear; clients were being delivered research by the pound. Quantity was the determinant. In that context, producing and scrutinizing cross-tabs from every possible angle was a worthwhile pursuit. Well, we’ve moved light-years beyond that reality. Clients and their needs have evolved, and in many respects, we’re the ones playing catch-up.

Q – What’s next for CROP?

A – You’ll recall that Chinese proverb: Interesting times really means change. Some see this as a curse – from where we sit, it’s all good. The great news is that our organization has been orchestrating the right shift for a few years now, so we’ve got a running start on the competition.

Our re-branding officially marks and publicly communicates the shift towards a philosophy we profoundly believe in, but more importantly, one that our clients, present and future will embrace.

We know where the end zone is and we’re headed there. And frankly, that’s the most fun and rewarding part.