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Why Brand and Shopper Activation is Growing in Canada

Trends and Insight 914 Add to collection

Geometry Global Toronto’s Nuala Byles on engaging with Canadian shoppers - and getting results

Why Brand and Shopper Activation is Growing in Canada

Disrupting a shopper’s path to purchase and inspiring them to buy your brand or product at the moments and places when they can be most effectively influenced is the essence of great shopper marketing. It’s a weapon marketers are increasingly adding to their arsenal to drive conversion because the retail landscape has become practically unrecognizable in the last decade. Shoppers don’t have a linear journey anymore. Traditional push strategies are rarely effective. Digital and social have radically changed the way we shop, enabling us to research, compare, try and pay for products, without ever setting foot inside a bricks and mortar store. Given this, truly relevant shopper activations can spark or deepen brand affinity and drive purchase. 

In Canada, shopper marketing has so far been viewed as tactical, in-store activity rather than a strategic, full-journey marketing tool. But that is changing as brands slowly realize that shopper affords them opportunities to create original ideas that emerge from sharp local market insights and a deep understanding of shopper demand. And sometimes, ideas that originate as local activation leverage an insight that rings true in other markets. The Kleenex ‘Share the Care’ campaign, for example, began as a distinctly Canadian project but the idea has resonated so resoundingly in the U.S. that Kimberly-Clark has made it the overall North American campaign idea. 

Kleenex’s challenge was to reignite brand affinity and demand in a crowded category and reassert its core brand proposition of care.  To do this, we honed in on the insight that in our hyper-busy lives, it’s become easy to be indifferent to the suffering of others. Kleenex wanted to be the catalyst in enabling a caring moment between strangers. We designed a social experiment in the height of cold and flu season, exposing people in public spaces to an actor with cold-like symptoms, while hidden cameras rolled. At first, we captured peoples’ indifference toward our actor as she sneezed. Then we handed out a specially designed perforated Kleenex share pack and invited them to share. It was so exciting to watch this unfold! With the Kleenex share pack in hand, people overcame their indifference and started to share.  The film was shared socially to a tremendous response and the experiment became the basis for the larger campaign idea. 


After nearly two consecutive decades in decline, Kleenex saw an increase in both share and volume, up +0.6 and +2.3% respectively. The number of people talking about Kleenex in the social space increased by a whopping 3900% over the previous quarter and positive social sentiment jumped from 29% to 38% during the same time period.

Another reason why shopper marketing is gaining traction in Canada is because the country has a unique retail landscape compared to the U.S., with just a handful of big companies like Walmart, Loblaw and Shoppers Drug Mart dominating the consumer goods, food and beauty marketplace. So brands who want to activate shoppers must work closely with these retailers to create win-win marketing programs. For example, when Huggies wanted to boost sales at Walmart in Canada it did so by simultaneously supporting the retailer’s efforts to become a go-to destination for all things baby. Given Walmart’s growing presence online and knowing that moms-to-be do a lot of research online, we created Huggies Baby Room By Design on walmart.ca. This customized drag & drop tool enabled moms to design, build, share and buy everything they needed for their new arrival.  Moms could browse multiple baby categories, build an inspiration collage and download and print a shopping list with a budget tracker. She could also share her collages with her friends and family on social media. Not only did this program drive double-digit sales growth for Huggies, it showcased Walmart as the destination for all of Mom’s baby needs. 

In Canada, brand activation also has an undeniably digital bent.  While e-commerce in Canada still lags behind other parts of the world, Canadians are very active and engaged online - Canada averaged 36.7 hours in monthly hours per visitor (ranking 1st above any other countries, Canada’s average monthly pages per visitor is 3,238 (ranking 3rd globally) and average monthly visits per visitor is 90 (ranking 1st globally). For brands looking to make authentic connections with their target audience, a strong and creative digital strategy is key. Take for instance U by Kotex which needed to engage its Millennial girl audience with more than just TV advertising. The brand signed on as the executive producer of the first-ever transmedia series about vampires and menstruation, a 36-episode YouTube web series called ‘Carmilla.’ Leveraging the pervasive interest among this target for all things vampire, we developed a story that integrated U by Kotex in a relevant and completely unexpected way. Fans adopted the characters and became so attached to them that the series earned 11 million impressions in just six months. Within hours of the last episode, fans created a “#SaveCarmilla” campaign, resulting in 11.6 tweets per minute and 7,700,000 timeline deliveries. All with zero paid media and fan demand ensured that a second season is in the works.

These examples illustrate why shopper marketing and brand activation is growing in Canada. Given the push for global alignment, but the need for local relevance, engagement and results, brand teams and agencies alike are expanding their shopper activation focus, seeing the opportunity to make the impact they need to in this constantly evolving marketplace.


Nuala Byles is Executive Creative Director at Geometry Global Toronto 


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VMLY&R COMMERCE Worldwide, Tue, 12 May 2015 16:06:02 GMT