9 things you don't know about marketing in Canada

Marketing is all about getting the right message to the right person at the right time. For marketers in Canada, that often means investing in digital, mobile, video, and social strategies to reach a population that's increasingly active in these spaces. Here's what you might not know about marketing in Canada -- and its future.

Digital ad spending is projected to surpass TV for the first time

In 2012, advertisers spent more than CA$13.24 billion, and this figure is projected to hit CA$15.61 billion by 2017, according to reports from eMarketer. This year, digital is predicted to surpass TV spending for the first time -- and to continue to grow. eMarketer projects digital spending will reach C$4.64 billion by 2017, representing 29.7 percent of total media ad spending in Canada.

Mobile spending will see triple-digit growth rates in 2014

Canadians are consuming more content on their mobile phones than ever before. Local targeting, context-based messaging, and social media and video marketing capabilities add to mobile advertising's potential. By 2017, mobile is predicted to account for a third of Canada's total digital spend. Mobile spending doubled from 2011 to 2012, and eMarketer predicts this spending will see triple-digit growth rates this year, hitting approximately CA$326.5 million.

New programmatic buying solutions help pave the way for growth

Indicative of a global trend, programmatic buying in Canada is on the rise. "In terms of buying and selling media, ad technology and programmatic buying were the hottest topics late in 2013 and show no signs of waning in 2014," says David Brown, executive editor of Marketing magazine in Canada. "This became a big deal in the U.S. a few years ago, but really only started to become a hot topic here about 18 to 24 months ago. Interest is still growing, and growing fast."

The growth comes from publishers' need to monetize unsold inventory and marketers' need for a more automated and targeted solution. Of course, programmatic buying can't take off without infrastructure. The Canadian Premium Audience Exchange (CPAX), a real-time bidding and programmatic buying exchange, debuted in 2012. It reaches more than 20 million Canadians online through partnerships with major publishers and networks, including CBC/Radio-Canada, Shaw Media, Rogers Media, Corus Entertainment, and Télé-Québec. Xaxis, GroupM's digital audience buying company, launched Xaxis Premium in Canada in May of last year and partners with CPAX.

Canada among global leaders in video penetration

"Online video is finally going to take off," predicts Bob Reaume, vice president, policy and research, of the Association of Canadian Advertisers (ACA). "We all know that search, static and rich media ads have seen incredible growth, but video has languished. This year it will finally find its footing."

The writing is on the wall. Video spending skyrocketed by 75 percent in 2012, reaching CA$127.8 million, according to eMarketer. (Other research puts the spending slightly lower or higher.) eMarketer predicts this figure will double in 2016, hitting CA$360 million.

Interestingly, acceptance of video advertising and video ad completion rates in Canada are high, according to the results of a 2012 study conducted by AdoTube, an in-stream video ad company. Sixty-eight percent of participants played an ad to completion, compared to 66 percent in the U.S. and 63 percent in the U.K.

North American marketers sometimes overlook country differences

"Canada's population is approximately one-tenth the size of the U.S., so the numbers alone lead many brands to focus on the American market," says Brian Rotsztein, president of the Canadian Internet Marketing Association and CEO of Uniseo, an internet marketing agency. "Canadian companies marketing their brands south of the border must allocate their budgets accordingly, as they are at the mercy of the state of the U.S. economy."

North American marketers sometimes forget that there are differences between marketing to the U.S. and Canada. "The U.S. is so huge that companies [when marketing to North America] create for the United States," Reaume says. "They sometimes forget we are a sovereign nation, and we have different laws and regulations. For example, product packaging -- it has to be dual-language. There is no Canadian marketer who doesn't understand that. There are also cultural differences, in particular in the French language. Certain messages just don't translate well in Quebec." 

Toronto is one of the most diverse cities in the world

Toronto is the most -- or at least one of the most -- multicultural cities in the world. "We have a pretty developed multicultural marketing infrastructure," Reaume says. "Advertisers have become much more amenable to reaching out to multicultural ethnic audiences in their native tongue."

The Olympics spawn a surge in online advertising

The Olympic Games are immensely popular in Canada and increasingly consumed on tablets and mobile phones. The 2010 Games in Vancouver were dubbed the first "digital Olympics," with more content being viewed digitally than ever before. The London 2012 games were similarly viewed online, thus many Canadian marketers prepared a robust digital strategy for the recent games in Sochi.

"Every two years, spending patterns shift. Some clients take money from different budgets and redirect it, others add budget, but there's always a blip -- here and in the U.S., too," Reaume says. For the first time in six years, the Olympic Games were broadcasted by a public broadcaster, CBC, which also contributed to digital ad spending. "CBC offered their Olympic coverage online for free, available to every Canadian," Reaume adds. "You could watch any event you had missed on your phone, and it was all commercially supported."  

The industry is keeping an eye on consolidation

Last year, Omnicom Group and Publicis Groupe merged, creating the world's largest advertising agency. The new super agency accounts for 43 percent of ad billings in Canada, according to Reaume. Business Insider recently reported on rumors that WPP will acquire Interpublic Group, a possibility that could have prodigious effects on Canada's media economy. "If rumor proves true, if WPP and IRG merge, they would leap ahead as the world's largest ad group," Reaume says. "They would have 44 percent of total ad billing in Canada. That means two companies would control 87 percent of all ad billings in this country. That is cause for concern. Our interest is keeping a healthy competitive marketplace for advertisers."

Canada continues to go "native"

Canadian publishers and marketers will continue to embrace native advertising and content marketing. "I believe content marketing, however you want to define it, will be front and center for marketers and their agencies in Canada," Brown says. "Deep, unsettling feelings about the ineffectiveness of much of their advertising in the modern digital era have many of them thinking they are much better off providing content that people actually want to watch, engage with, and share."

"Smart content marketing gives companies an opportunity to anticipate consumer needs and deliver high quality, relevant content," Rotsztein says. "The better and more relevant the content, the greater the chance for companies to get the word out about their products and services."

Jacqueline Lisk is a journalist, editor, and consultant who specializes in content marketing.

On Twitter? Follow Lisk at @JLisk1. Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

Editor's note: iMedia will be hosting its inaugural iMedia Canada Summit in Montreal, April 6-8. Learn more and request your invitation here.



Justin Belmont
Justin Belmont March 24, 2014 at 9:22 AM

This is really interesting because, you're right, few people know about these differences that affect Canada's marketing. I doubt many people consider that a marketing message could get lost in translation, for example. Prose Media recently did a post about the benefits of knowing a foreign language, and this might be a good supplement to your article: http://blog.prosemedia.com/4-ways-foreign-languages-can-help-your-business-thrive/. This is an interesting perspective, and thank you for supporting it with concrete facts. Well done!