Who's Acting On On-Line Advertising In Canada?

Toronto - Saturday, April 6, 2002 - By: Stewart MacDonald


We've all seen the annoying banner ads at the top of our browser screens and cursed at the popup windows which seem to slow internet traffic to a crawl. Internet purists whine about the commercialization of the web and on-line advertising seems to be running rampant...



does it work?

But does it really work? Who is paying attention, and more to the point is anybody spending money because of it?


At first glance you wouldn't think so. After all if there was any money to be made, no matter how little, there should be a horde of service providers and a number of professional trade associations struggling to compete for advertising dollars. In fact the opposite is true. The homepage of Canada's Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) lists only 100 firms as being members and a keyword search on my favourite Canadian search engine for "banner ad" only returned nine service providers, and most of these have parent companies in the United States.




It looks as if somebody has dropped the ball, though. Canadian consumers are reacting to on-line advertising and companies which are ignoring this medium are missing out on reaching new customers.




A few colleagues and I recently conducted a controlled email survey on the topic of the availability of Canadian content on the world wide web, and one of the questions we asked was "Have you ever visited a Canadian website, used a Canadian service or purchased a Canadian product as the result of on-line advertising?" What we found was that although the majority (71%) claim not to be influenced by on-line advertising at all, a surprising 29% are.




And some groups are paying more attention than others.




Women are acting more frequently on on-line advertising than men (35% vs. 26%). There may be some truth to stereotype that women love to spend money, or it might be that women tend to be the principal shoppers for households (after all, many men still aren't that comfortable in the grocery store). Either way, female respondents advise that they react more frequently to on-line advertising messages than men.




Single internet users are paying more attention to web ads (33% vs. 27% for all other groups). It makes sense, single shoppers have a greater disposable income than their married, divorced, separated and widowed counterparts.



35 - 50

People between the ages of 35 and 50 act most often on on-line advertising (40% vs. 23% for all other age categories). Canadians in this age bracket tend to be in their peak earning years, already own most of the bare necessities and should have a higher disposable income than those with entry level jobs or those just getting by on pensions.




University graduates are more open to advertising messages (41% vs. 22% for all other groups). University graduates are paying more attention to on-line advertising than respondents from other educational backgrounds. It stands to reason that better educated people get better jobs and should have more money to spend but it also goes to show that being bright is no defence against a well-thought-out advertising campaign.




People living in smaller communities are acting on web advertising more often than those in larger population centres (37% vs. 25%). Small towns typically have limited access to malls and shopping centres, and rather than giving up the joys of shopping Canadians in these areas are spending their money on-line:




Residents of the Prairies are influenced more often by on-line ads than Canadians in other regions of the country (33% vs. 28% for all other provinces). People living in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba act more frequently on on-line advertising than those in other regions of the country.




The survey findings themselves are interesting enough, but even more interesting are people's reactions to them. All 500 respondents were provided with an overview of the results as a courtesy for taking part and many volunteered unsolicited feedback and commentary. Even though the next topics were not raised, a lot of people brought up the following:
  1. Despite the abundance of advertising it is still extremely difficult to actually purchase Canadian products on the internet. Many respondents advised that they are purchasing American products in U.S. dollars and expressed a high degree of frustration with the lack of choices available domestically.

  2. It was also pointed out that in cases where a Canadian vendor is available that delivery times are often faster (at a competitive overall cost) if the product is ordered from an American supplier and then shipped here.

  3. In cases where there is a U.S. parent company, often the Canadian on-line subsidiary doesn't offer the same scope of services enjoyed by Americans. The U.S. market is more competitive and service expectations seem to be higher.

  4. Spam is still not an acceptable e-mail practice and unsolicited email is just as unwelcome as it ever was. Opt-in mailing lists have gained in popularity, however Canadians still do not want to see anything in their inbox which they haven't specifically requested or at least expect.

  5. The most popular method to find out about new on-line service offerings is, ironically, newspapers and print media.




Despite paying attention to web advertising and being relatively open to suggestion, on-line Canadians also tend to be a fairly cynical lot. I received a very large number of inquiries as to whether I favour a particular medium or even specific company, and I am sure that despite assurances to the contrary a good number of people suspect that they are now part of some nefarious internet marketing list. So although Canadians are crying for product to spend money on, it looks as if they remain skeptical enough not to make it an easy sale.
  Stewart MacDonald, FCSI
Innovative Consulting Strategies
152 Pinegrove Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, M1N 2G9
Telephone/fax: (416) 352-5505

Methodology: the fieldwork for this survey was conducted in late February, 2002 and analyzed in March. Five hundred study participants were recruited from on-line Canadian discussion forums (i.e. moderated bulletin boards, usenet groups and opt-in mailing lists) which address a wide variety of topics. Participants were required to provide full contact information including first and last name, a contact phone number and full demographic information to be eligible to take part. Once this was done they were directed to a dedicated web site with a secure survey form.