Marketing Wow

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Canadian TireAdvertising and marketing, design and public relations, influence and persuasion – they all fascinate me. I love to listen to Terry O’Reilly’s show on CBC (both Age of Persuasion and Under the Influence). I’m actually reading one of his books, The Age of Persuasion, right now. I’m also reading a book on the science of shopping: Paco Underhill’s Why We Buy.

I like to read about the effect, styles, creators, the history, sociology, the science and craft behind them and their craft. I consume books on advertising design that illustrate the power of art, photography and word that can engage and galvanize consumers (as opposed to the dreary Collingwood town ads in the Enterprise-Bulletin, which merely bore and deter them…).

And, unlike most of you, I actually pay attention to the framework of the ads – the typography, the photography, the design, the colours and contrast. I look at advertising and marketing with a far more critical eye than many. While I lack the skills of a designer, I have at least an appreciation of the art and skills required (and, as some readers know, am periodically, mildly obsessed with typography).

In the Internet Age, how does on stand out amidst the clutter and the noise. How does one position a business, a store, a product in a veritable ocean of competition, all screaming for attention?

Estimates of how many advertisements, brands or product placements the average person encounters in a single day range from about 600 to more than 10,000. It’s tough to stand out in that crowd. Ad clutter tends to turn off the audience, rather than engage it. Bad layout and puerile typography drive them away.

It’s not easy doing creative advertising and marketing these days. In fact, trying to figure out how to be heard or seen among this plethora consumes more time than doing the artwork, but imagine every other agency trying to to the same thing. And then imagine some of the best and brightest trying to craft ads and brand logos to capture the hearts and minds of the same people every other agency is chasing.

So I was surprised and delighted when I got a copy of the latest Canadian Tire catalogue in my mailbox.

I was used to the old, somewhat utilitarian catalogue, only marginally more interesting than the Town of Collingwood’s dreary newspaper ads. Something to search through for a specific item, without really paying attention to the other content, sort of like a dictionary or thesaurus. And that’s the way it was always organized and laid out: in librarian-style categories like the old Eaton’s and Simpson’s catalogues of my youth (which, to be fair, helped drag me through puberty with the lingerie ads… ;-).

But not the “Wow Guide.” It’s a 21st century catalogue, 200 pages arranged more organically, with crisp images, uncluttered pages, lots of white space, sharp typography (and nice type contrast), scattered throughout with tips, educational tidbits and some gamification thrown in. It’s back after an almost 10-year hiatus, but for me the gobsmacker is the new design.

It’s more akin to Ikea’s catalogues – lifestyle emphasized over product – than the old Canadian Tire designs. It’s pleasant to skim through, not taxing, and it focuses attention on form over function, aesthetics over utility. Text is kept to a minimum, to make the images stand out more.

(The company stepped into a major political cowpie, however, by sending out French-only catalogues in Quebec, which has caused an anglophone backlash and a, so far-refused, demand for a bilingual catalogue…)

But it did amaze me that in 2016 Canadian Tire actually printed a paper catalogue and distributed it across the country. Twelve million of them. That’s almost anachronistic in the digital age, but it sure caught my attention. As it did the media and marketers across North America.

It also has a paired app for mobile devices – making it an “augmented reality” catalogue, a digital crossover – with more than 400 pages of content and thousands more items online. As CEO Michael Medline said in an interview, the app immediately helped boost online sales:

Following the mailout, the company saw its weekly e-commerce transactions double, Medline said in describing the catalogue as “the single biggest impact lever we have ever pulled to generate more online sales.”

The print catalogue is intended (and so far proven) to be a gateway to the digital world, a teaser that effectively brought people into the more comprehensive online version. As Media in Canada site noted:

Print will give the retailer the kind of reach it seeks to build awareness of its product range and digital access to that range, something that digital cannot offer. Of Canada’s 14 million households, 85% will receive a paper catalogue in their mailboxes starting today.
Indeed the 200-page catalogue leads to a fuller 400-page digital entity. The paper catalogue, for instance, may feature one type of shed the retailer and then advise readers to move online to see the 15 other varieties of that product on the shelves.
The digital detailing within the catalogue also points to a shift in the retailer’s target market, which is currently the 30-to-49 age demo, with an active family. That, Flood said, is much younger than the retailer’s target market used to be. “That demo is interested in being inspired, and understanding what products we have. They are digitally savvy and we needed to come up with a way to inspire folks and provide a digital ecosystem to them to shop.”

Marketing Magazine wrote of an interview with the company’s TJ Flood, senior vice-president of marketing:

The print catalogue is effectively a “subset of the digital catalogue” in terms of the content, and frequently directs readers to the website for additional information, he said. The company took it further by adding on another layer of mobile interactivity.

Meanwhile, as the Globe & Mail reports, Canadian Tire’s subsidiary, Sport Check, is looking at offering items for sale on Facebook, where they already advertise heavily. And, unlike many retaillers, the company is not giving up on their bricks-and-mortar business model.

And as it noted in the Financial Post:

The interesting thing here is how Canadian Tire seems to be mixing the two concepts in a cross-over effort to capture the attentions of older customers used to the static paper catalogue, and newer customers who are now conditioned to interactive shopping experiences on their mobile devices.
“Their core target audience probably won’t be pulling their phones out to scan over the pages in this catalogue, but their future audience will, and that’s what’s important,” said Jim Danahy, CEO of Toronto retail advisory firm Customer Lab. “This is what I’d call a digital crossover catalogue — the notion of the catalogue reimagined.”

For all I live and work in the digital world every day, I prefer the hard copy over digital for almost every publication. My iPhone 4 is okay for some online things, but the screen is too damned small for serious reading. Plus, I only use wireless data, not cell, so the app doesn’t work for me outside my wifi range. This means I can’t refer to it in-store, only at home, which to my mind defeats some of its utility.

Maybe I’m just an old curmudgeon with increasingly anachronistic tendencies. Although I’ve been digital for almost 40 years, I will read the print version on the front porch on a warm evening with a cup of tea or glass of wine, along with the books and newspapers I bring out. Or I’ll browse it in bed in the hour-plus time I read before sleep every night. I don’t do that with an iPad or iPhone.

Besides, so far the app has crashed to the iPad desktop every time I attempt to use it… and scanning a print page with an iPad with an attached keyboard proved rather clumsy. But I’m the exception, I guess, and well outside the new demographic the company is targetting.

I laud Canadian Tire for their initiative and their makeover, and I delight in the design of their new catalogue, but until Canadian Tire puts free wifi into its stores to enhance their customers’ digital experience, the app isn’t going to engage me. I’ll stick to the print version.

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