February 20, 2017
Condemnation was harsh and predictable when Ottawa wrote a big cheque this month to aircraft maker Bombardier Inc.
Critics derided the $372.5-million interest-free loan as another case of the federal government pandering to Quebec, and worse, handing a gift to two unworthy wealthy families who control the company.
February 17, 2017
Even the chief marketing officer of Airbnb Inc. has a soft spot for hotels sometimes. While in Alberta next week, in an unusual move, Jonathan Mildenhall won’t be booking through his company’s home-sharing service, but instead is looking forward to a stay at the “stunning” Banff Springs. He’ll be there for the Gathering, a conference organized by marketing agency Cult, where he’ll be talking about “marketing that matters.”
Airbnb’s was all about diversity, and the company’s chief executive officer has been quite vocal opposing President Donald Trump’s immigration ban. What’s your view on the balancing act of marketers getting political?
I don’t believe that any of the brands that had culturally significant this year were actually taking political stands. Now, my chief exec’s position on immigration, and the time of that, that was directly against a political executive order. But let’s put that in one bucket, and talk about brands that make what I call social stands. … What a lot of marketers are afraid of is putting their brand in the middle of political discourse. It’s about doing what’s right by humanity. Whatever your community of consumers believes in, the brand should take that social stand. I don’t believe that Coca-Cola, three years ago when it did , [produced when Mr. Mildenhall was Coke’s vice-president of global advertising strategy, and featuring the song in different languages] was any more or less politically charged than when it ran during this year’s Super Bowl. The social stand that Coke was taking was relevant then, and it’s relevant now. And the social stand that Airbnb takes is entirely consistent with the values of our community. So did we take a political stand? I’d like to say no. Did we take a very clear social stand? Absolutely.
Do you think that might be a false distinction for brands right now, though, considering the current climate, where so many social issues are also political? Particularly when we talk about things like immigration – or with “America the Beautiful,” the cultural identity of who is an American; is that a distinction you can still meaningfully make?
It’s interesting. Here’s where I’ve been, historically: During the runup to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage, there was a lot of temptation from my team for us to be pushing marriage equality. At the time I didn’t want to, because I didn’t want to be on the wrong side of the political agenda for the brand – because I didn’t feel that that was the brand’s role. Of course, all of the brands I have ever been involved in talk about and praise and promote the LGBT community. I’ve invested heavily across the course of my career on Pride events, charities that support the LGBT community. I think that’s the right thing to do. But when it came to marriage equality, did I want the brand to step out in front of that political agenda? I didn’t. As soon as the ruling was made, then I celebrated marriage equality.It’s a nuance, but as a leader, I want to always ensure that the brand doesn’t get caught up in a political crossfire. In the U.S. particularly, it’s incredibly charged right now. I’m very, very conscious of the fact that I want my brand to be bipartisan – but bipartisan with a universal ideology at the core. I want to make sure that my community feels that the brand is sensitive and is not exclusionary, providing that the brand is respected for promoting diversity and inclusivity.
Airbnb announced its acquisition of Montreal-based Luxury Retreats. You’re expanding more into luxury accommodations; last year you launched a vacation experiences service called Trips; and you’ve got a flight-booking tool in the works. How do you shift the meaning of your brand as you attempt an expansion into other travel services?
We genuinely feel we can stand for end-to-end travel – everything from booking to transportation to the experiences you have, the restaurants you go to, the people you might meet. So we’ve got this brand identity that is enabling people to live like a local – hence the “” slogan. As long as the products and services are furthering that proposition, we’ll seriously consider it. Luxury Retreats gives us the opportunity to invite people who previously might have thought of Airbnb as being a budget, low-cost accommodations proposition into the brand.
Last year, the Art Institute of Chicago used Airbnb as an advertising vehicle – with a that recreated Van Gogh’s bedroom painting as an actual room, and put it up for rent. What did you learn from that?
They came to us with the idea, and it became the biggest marketing story in Airbnb’s history. Their ticket sales were up – so it was great for them and for us. It inspired us to set up a tool online so that other brands could submit their proposals, and we would partner with them. It’s an amplification for those brands, and it takes the Airbnb proposition to deeper audiences that we might not reach through our own marketing. Around the world, we have had 12 brands, including the likes of Audi and Sonos, that have used Airbnb to market their own products.
Recently, Lady Gaga gave you some serious publicity by posting her Airbnb accommodations for the Super Bowl on , and last year Beyoncé did the same on Facebook. This kind of “influencer marketing” is growing – what’s your strategy for that, and how do newer rules about having to disclose what is an ad affect those deals?
Influencers are used in marketing generally to endorse and legitimize a brand. Really, it all started with Mariah Carey in 2015. She was the first celebrity to stay on the platform. It came about very organically. We knew her management team. The impact is phenomenal because people are interested in the lifestyle of these influencers. If that lifestyle can be authentically associated with staying in interesting Airbnb properties, that is a no-brainer for us. But at the same time, we have a responsibility to comply with the [Federal Trade Commission] here in the U.S. and any other [countries’] marketing guidelines. It’s really important that brands help consumers understand that it is a marketing partnership. You will always see “Thanks for the gift, Airbnb,” or “Thanks for picking up the tab, Airbnb” – the language around it is very clear that Airbnb has paid for the accommodation.
Airbnb is at the centre of some negative publicity . Cities such as New York, London and Toronto have been looking at new regulations on short-term rentals; neighbours have expressed concerns about units being used for parties or other disruptive activities and how guests doing damage could jeopardize an entire building’s insurance; there are questions about how home-sharing distorts real estate markets. You’ve created advocacy groups for your hosts to counter some of that. As a marketer, how do you handle the controversial aspects of the brand?
It’s arguably one of the most complex areas of managing the brand narrative. The aspirational, “belong anywhere” message has to work really, really hard at creating a disproportionate share of the conversation. I always like to feel confident that for every dollar I’m investing in that part of the brand narrative, I’m creating $10 worth of conversation – the multiplier has to be that significant. And then at the same time, in local conversations with cities and communities, the narrative is about Airbnb helping middle-class citizens in urban centres stay in their homes and make ends meet. The challenge for us as a marketing organization is knowing when to speak with those different messages. We all focus on exactly the same news stories, on a nightly basis, we have a team of people working on public policy that are helping us understand what narratives might be emerging in cities all around the world. The checks and balances between public policy and brand marketing are probably more integrated at Airbnb than any company that I’ve worked with.
As the brand changes, how do you see your marketing investments shifting in the future?
It’s incredible how far the Airbnb brand has come. Just two years ago, a brand campaign featured around the world, with the voiceover that started, “Dear stranger, when I first booked this trip, my friends thought I was crazy. Why would you stay in someone else’s home?” Airbnb was still seen as a bit of a weird alternative travel proposition. Now, we’re no longer the disruptor. We’re part of the travel establishment, the business is so big. “Living like a local” is such a valuable idea for us from a marketing perspective. It is flexible enough for us to promote all of the products that I see in the pipeline.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
February 17, 2017
General Motors just gave investors another reason to be wary of Tesla shares.
GM revealed this week that it wants to cut loose Opel, its European division (Opel in Britain is called Vauxhall). Opel has been losing fortunes for years, in spite of a valiant turnaround effort under GM boss Mary Barra. So GM is cutting its losses. Ms. Barra’s plan is to sell Opel to France’s Groupe PSA, owner of the Peugeot and Citroën brands.
February 15, 2017
As a young sprinter hitting his stride, Andre De Grasse is a athlete: even before winning three medals in his Olympic debut and making friends with superstar Usain Bolt along the way, Mr. De Grasse inked a massive sponsorship deal with Puma and has worked with brands such as Gillette, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP and on a local level, Pizza Pizza. But the latest marketing partnership to land on the De Grasse doorstep is not focused on the Canadian track phenom: the star of the campaign is his mother, Beverley.
Ms. De Grasse has signed a one-year partnership with GraceKennedy (Ontario) Ltd., the Canadian arm of the Kingston, Jamaica-based packaged food manufacturer that sells the Grace brand across Canada.
“Andre is always talking to the media about my cooking,” Ms. De Grasse said with evident pride. “I thought it was a great way to show the public some of his favourite recipes.”
As part of the deal, Ms. De Grasse will appear at events for the company and will also shoot videos and photos for use on social media. One-minute segments will feature her sharing quick recipes, such as jerk chicken, that Grace will share on its Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts. Andre sweetens the deal: he has agreed to amplify those promotions by sharing at least three posts on his own social media accounts as well.
Ms. De Grasse moved to Canada from Trinidad and Tobago in 1987 and has noticed how much more diverse Canadian tastes have become in the past 30 years – she uses Grace products, she said, and they have become easier to find in mainstream supermarkets.
The company has been working to respond to those trends: part of the campaign’s objective is to emphasize the products’ ease of use to cooks who are only beginning to experiment with unfamiliar recipes. It is in the process of changing its corporate name to Grace Canada to reflect its expansion across the country.
“We have so many cities that are diverse, there’s really a blend of cultures. And people are foodies. They’re interested in trying new flavours. We’ve definitely seen growth in that area,” said Alexandria Mottley, assistant brand manager at GraceKennedy. “We’re getting the first-generation, core Caribbean consumers but also their kids who grew up with their moms’ cooking, and they’re introducing the food to their friends. … We’re seeing a lot of interest in Caribbean cooking.”
Grace is not the first brand to recognize the value of an athlete’s family. Procter & Gamble Co. has shifted the bulk of its advertising investment around the Olympics to its “” campaign, drawing emotional heft by profiling the roles that real athletes’ mothers have played in their children’s success. Beverley and Andre De Grasse were part of this in Canada at the Rio Games, under P&G’s brand.
“Beverley’s wonderful in the sense that she’s very humble and gracious, but like Andre she has that twinkle in her eye when the camera turns on,” said Brian Levine, managing director of Toronto-based Envision Sports & Entertainment Inc., who works on sponsorship deals with Mr. De Grasse in Canada, and who also suggested the Grace opportunity to Ms. De Grasse. “She has such a heartfelt, warm presence.”
Following his Olympic success, Mr. De Grasse has also attracted more attention from sponsors, Mr. Levine said, noting that he recently signed a deal that has not yet been announced.
During her son’s events in Rio, Ms. De Grasse was a constant presence, cheering wildly at his success. When Andre was in high demand for interviews, Ms. De Grasse sometimes stepped in and has become comfortable speaking with media. Still, she said she was “quite surprised and taken aback” when an opportunity arose to work with an advertiser on her own.
Grace has a small marketing budget in Canada, and is hoping to make an impact through social media. The marketing team believes Ms. De Grasse is an “authentic” voice that will work well in that environment and an approachable air that could help expand its appeal.
“Where we see an opportunity for growth is in the mainstream market,” Ms. Mottley said. “We can come in with recipes that are versatile and easy for Canadians to use. … We want to get over that boundary.”
February 15, 2017
Who doesn’t love a good movie that features an unlikely team of misfits banding together to win out over an imposing foe, perhaps on the gridiron or the battlefield?
This week, Canadian politicians and business leaders have followed the script to a T in the trade arena as they invaded Donald Trump’s America to spread the message that punitive measures would hurt both countries.
February 13, 2017
American capitalism is in terrible danger – and Donald Trump could be its nemesis.
The scattershot policy pronouncements from the Oval Office make it clear: This President will be no enemy of monopoly; he will seek to level no playing fields; he will erect no barriers to corporate power; nor he will appoint any watchdogs with a mission to curb market abuse or predatory commercial behaviour.
February 12, 2017
Every year, just before Christmas, the Fraser Institute publishes a “Generosity Index,” which compares charitable giving in Canada and the United States. The widely-publicized message in 2016 was that Canadians are relative tightwads, with just 21.3 per cent of us making tax-deductible charitable donations in 2014, compared with 23.5 per cent of Americans, and total donations amounting to just 0.6 per cent of Canadian family incomes compared with 1.2 per cent in the United States.
February 10, 2017
Fewer shoppers are pulling the Air Miles card out of their wallets at checkout in some stores, and many retailers have faced pressure from unhappy customers over their partnerships with the loyalty program.
And now Air Miles parent company LoyaltyOne Inc. says it plans to issue an apology to its members, and to offer an increased number of promotions with retailers, in an attempt to win back customers.
Late last year, as the program approached a deadline for miles five years and older to , members were scrambling to redeem them in time and faced long waits for customer service. Amid a legislative push in Ontario to expiry of loyalty points, Air Miles its expiry policy – leaving more members questioning why they had rushed to lock in rewards they . And members who do not have enough miles to redeem for rewards they do want remain unable to transfer those “Dream Miles” into a new category that gives them cash-back at checkout at participating retailers; they can only collect those “Cash Miles” going forward, once they have made changes to their accounts.
Retailers have become a conduit for members’ frustrations.
“We did feel the pressure,” said Hélène Bisson, vice-president of communications for Jean Coutu Group Inc. At its drugstores, feedback intensified in December with the approaching expiry deadline.
The most common complaints had to do with long waits to contact Air Miles customer service, and the difficulty of redeeming Dream Miles for rewards. “At that point, we had a lot of negative comments,” she said.
Jean Coutu has noted a decrease in people swiping their Air Miles cards at checkout at its chain of drugstores.
“We definitely heard some negative feedback. There were concerns about the expiry policy and a lot of those concerns were expressed to our team,” said Jamie Bliss, director of marketing and communications at Edmonton-based retailer Fountain Tire, which has locations across Canada. “People asked whether we were sure it was delivering value to customers.”
“We did hear some concerns from our Rexall customers,” said Derek Tupling, director of corporate communications at Rexall Pharmacy Group Ltd. The company summarized some of the most common complaints and forwarded them to Air Miles, and also directed customers who complained about the program to contact Air Miles directly.
“Our customer wasn’t happy [with] the way the partner managed that relationship with them,” François Vimard, then interim chief executive officer of Sobeys parent Empire Co. Ltd., on an analyst call in December. “It did affect us directly.” (Sobeys did not respond to requests for comment on this story.)
The Liquor Control Board of Ontario, which offers Air Miles promotions at its retail stores, said that feedback “fluctuated” late last year. LCBO spokeswoman Christine Bujold emphasized that it is not involved in the administration of the program and does not influence its policies. “However, when customers contacted LCBO to express concerns regarding changes to the program, we relayed those concerns to Air Miles, and encouraged customers to also contact the provider directly,” she said.
Air Miles saw both in-store promotions and customers’ card use drop at the end of last year, said Blair Cameron, senior vice-president at LoyaltyOne who oversees Air Miles operations and strategy, adding that it’s too soon to tell whether the drop in members’ use of their cards has continued into this year.
The company is stepping up its promotions to improve its relationship with members, and has been meeting with retailers to communicate those plans to them. Those include a cruise giveaway for members later this year, and an offer currently for free movies to members who sign up to use coupons at two retail partners. At least one partner has been doing damage control on its own: In the fall, partly to cope with the negative sentiment, Fountain Tire offered more miles than usual for purchases of Goodyear tires, which was received positively, Mr. Bliss said.
“We need to apologize for where we let collectors down. We need to own our shortcomings, and be transparent about it, and make a commitment to be better,” Mr. Cameron said. The details of that apology are still in the works, and he said the company plans to communicate directly with collectors.
Despite complaints, retailers including Rexall, Global Pet Food Stores Inc., Staples Canada and Fountain Tire, said they have no plans to discontinue partnerships with the program. Pharmasave Atlantic, Hilton Hotels Corp., and Shell Canada Ltd., which all offer Air Miles to customers, did not respond to interview requests.
Last month, Metro Inc. CEO Eric La Flèche said that the grocery chain from shoppers about Air Miles. “It has been rocky this fall with Air Miles, no doubt about that,” he said, adding that Metro would consider its options when it was time to renegotiate the loyalty program contract. That is normal procedure, Metro spokesperson Marie-Claude Bacon subsequently emphasized, saying the company has no plans right now to abandon the partnership.
Ms. Bisson would not comment on whether Jean Coutu is considering other options for its loyalty program. She said the company does not believe the negative feedback has affected its relationship with shoppers.
“We are following the situation with Air Miles closely, the satisfaction of our customers always remains our highest priority,” Lowe’s Canada spokesperson Valérie Gonzalo said, declining to comment further. The company offers Air Miles at Lowe’s, Rona and Ace Hardware stores.
InterContinental Hotels Group said it has not received “any relevant comments” about Air Miles from its IHG Rewards Club members. The club partners with Air Miles at IHG hotels including Holiday Inn, Candlewood Suites, Intercontinental, and Crowne Plaza.
Part of the attraction of a program such as Air Miles is that it allows retailers to offer bonuses for loyalty without having to build their own programs from scratch and manage issues such as shopper data analytics, information security and customer service.
“Last year was rough for us, and it was rough for some of our partners given the situation we found ourselves in with expiry,” Mr. Cameron said. “… In 2017, we need to turn that around.”
February 10, 2017
When Rick Baker was turning 65, he did not want to retire.
Mr. Baker had worked for more than four decades as a manager and instructor, including as a municipal parks director, sports consultant, golf-and-country club general manager and college and university professor.
“I wanted to keep working,” he says. He had always loved teaching. So he tapped his college connections, quit his full-time job as the chief executive officer of a large Ottawa-based recreation facility and took a part-time position as a professor at Algonquin College.
February 10, 2017
When Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec head Michael Sabia this week sought to defend the pension-fund manager’s plan to build and run a $5.9-billion light-rail transit system in Montreal, he cited the city’s tech sector as the inspiration for his unconventional proposal.
From Hopper, which just clinched $61-million (U.S.) in venture capital for its airfare-prediction app, to the University of Montreal artificial-intelligence lab that’s partnering with Google to create an AI “supercluster” in the city, Mr. Sabia insisted Montreal, “is laying the foundation for its renewal thanks to a new generation of entrepreneurs and researchers who think and act differently.”