Spring Board Success

There’s nothing left to buy, so let’s start building

It’s hard to feel sorry for retirement fund managers. They are paid well to look after our pensions but put yourself for a minute in their shoes.

Where do you invest the money? Stocks are risky or just overpriced; Canadian real estate is in a scary boom but expect a bust when you want to sell in 10 years time. The biggest headache is government bonds: so expensive that yields are close to nil and in some markets already negative. With no income, how does a pension fund meet its liabilities?

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Ryan Lochte signs endorsement deal for cough drops

Days after losing all his major sponsors, Ryan Lochte signed an endorsement deal with a company that made light of the scandal involving the U.S. Olympic swimmer at the Rio Games.

Pine Bros Softish Throat Drops, which makes cough drops, said it had signed Lochte, a 12-time Olympic medalist, for a television commercial and print ads.

Lochte lost all four of his major sponsors on Monday, including Speedo USA and Ralph Lauren Corp, following his apology for an “exaggerated” story about being robbed at gunpoint in Rio.

Lochte’s version of the incident embarrassed the host city, angered local officials and further revelations about it – casting doubt on Lochte’s story – dominated news coverage of South America’s first Olympics.

“We all make mistakes, but they’re rarely given front page scrutiny,” Pine Bros Chief Executive Rider McDowell said in a statement on Thursday.

“I’m confident that Pine Bros fans will support our decision to give Ryan a second chance,” he said.

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McCain’s Pizza Pockets aren’t dead, they’re just getting a makeover

Fans of Pizza Pockets can stop panicking.

The popular microwavable, round, baked, McCain’s frozen-food product that used to be advertised as the “favourite snack of teens” isn’t going away any time soon. Like Clone High’s Joan of Arc, Ty from Clueless and every participant in America’s Next Top Model, Pizza Pockets have just received a makeover.

“We made sure that we did not change the recipes or the flavours because we went and asked consumers,” said Vikram Bawa, McCain Foods Ltd.’s vice-president of marketing. “We did make the pockets bigger, added more protein, meat and cheese, to make them more satiating.”

The newer version of Pizza Pockets, with their oblong shape, ridge lines and redesigned packaging, started appearing on grocery-store shelves in mid-August, along with Harvest Pockets and Protein Pop’ables, the other two product formats in the Marché line. An advertising push is scheduled to start on Friday.

For those not ready to give up the original version, Mr. Bawa said a very limited number will be available in a small number of retailers. “And it’ll be in a new format in a bag, rather than a box,” he said. “It’ll be a very limited opportunity compared to what it used to be.”

Rumours of Pizza Pockets’ early demise broke out on Twitter on Wednesday after Corner Brook, Nfld., grocer Gene Coleman of the Coleman Group of Companies . The company owns 11 grocery stores in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Later that evening, McCain attempting to calm fears, saying, “Hey Pizza Pocket fans, we heard you heard some rumours. … Here’s the scoop,” with a link to the company’s .

Mr. Bawa said McCain Foods had been planning the launch of the new line for about 18 months after noticing a significant change in consumers’ eating habits. “Fewer and fewer people are sitting down at a dining table and having a meal on a regular basis,” he said. “They are mostly on the go, so they are grabbing something like a granola bar.”

McCain’s research found that 56 per cent of Canadians in 2012 said they snacked once a day, compared with only 26 per cent in 2010, and that number continues to grow, Mr. Bawa said. “It’s not just millennials, it’s also young families and young adults. We even found a lot of similarity between millennials and boomers, the empty nesters.”

The snacking trend continues to be a significant phenomenon, especially among two-person households, which represent almost 70 per cent of Canada’s population. “It’s a really high number,” Mr. Bawa said.

Pizza Pockets aren’t the only frozen food in McCain’s portfolio to get a new look and marketing approach. In 2014, the company redesigned the packaging of its frozen potatoes to communicate a more natural image. And in 2012, it reformulated the recipes of more than 70 of its potato, pizza and pocket products to include only recognizable ingredients that are found in home kitchens.

Mr. Bawa said the snacking industry is estimated to be worth more than $2-billion in Canada, but sales and growth in the frozen-snack category have been flat for the last few years, except for frozen fruit.

McCain first introduced Pizza Pockets in 1992, but it was not the first to launch the product category in Canada, nor is it the dominant player. Winnipeg actually saw the introduction of a pizza snack decades earlier, when an entrepreneur named Paul Faraci created Pizza Pops in 1964. General Mills Canada still manufactures the fried product for the Pillsbury brand, which has a market share of 23 per cent, roughly twice that of Pizza Pockets.

Mr. Bawa said he was surprised at the strong reaction many Canadians had on Twitter about the rumours they might be discontinued. “I think it just speaks to the relationship consumers have had to the McCain brand growing up,” he said, noting similar reactions to campaigns for Deep and Delicious cake or McCain’s fries. “It’s a pleasant surprise, I have to say.”

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Three ideas for more progressive tax reform

Progressive tax reform to promote both greater income distributional fairness and increased revenues to fund social programs and public services should be squarely on the agenda for the 2017 federal budget. Indeed, with faltering growth, the federal Liberals will be hard-pressed to meet their commitments to new investments, while still reducing the federal debt-to-GDP ratio, if they do not significantly increase revenues.

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Alberta’s ‘non-austerity plan’ slow to create jobs

Joe Ceci spent much of his summer touring craft breweries around Alberta. The provincial Finance Minister was promoting a government grant for the industry, but perhaps that was only part of his motivation.

Seeing all that red ink in the government’s first-quarter fiscal update, one can understand Mr. Ceci wanting to get out of the office to partake in a pint or two.

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Instead of buying winners, how about a gold medal for infrastructure?

The biggest winner so far at the Rio Olympics isn’t Michael Phelps for his bucketful of swimming golds or even the U.S. Olympic team, squatting smugly (as usual) on a medal mountain. The big prize goes to Theresa May, the U.K. Prime Minister. While Team GB sweats in Rio, defying demographics by winning gold after gold, Ms. May is enjoying a blissfully quiet holiday in the Swiss Alps.

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Can money buy Olympic success?

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As user growth stalls, Twitter aims to raise its profile with advertisers

When 89 per cent of a company’s revenue comes from advertising, you would think someone would be in charge of advertising.

But Twitter Inc. went nearly a decade without a chief marketing officer, before hiring Leslie Berland away from American Express Co. in January. Of course, the company was focused on working with advertisers before that. But without a CMO, it did not sufficiently articulate what Twitter means as a brand – both to the users who drive its growth, and to the advertisers who pay the bills. On Monday, the company will expand that team with the addition of its first head of consumer marketing in Canada, Laura Pearce, formerly vice-president of brand strategy at Blue Ant Media.

The hires are part of a larger attempt to address slower than expected growth at the company: While other platforms such as have been aggressively courting both users and advertisers, Twitter has had trouble attracting new users. Although it is making more money per user than before – and roughly 70 per cent of those users are on mobile devices, a growing area of interest for advertisers – the platform needs to grow in order to thrive in an environment with intensifying competition for social-media advertising dollars.

Last year, before hiring Ms. Berland, Twitter launched its first major advertising campaign for itself, which ran on television during the baseball World Series. Last month, it launched a series of highlighting the way people use Twitter to keep up with what’s going on in the world.

“A lot of that was ,” Ms. Berland said in an interview Thursday. “…What you’ll be seeing soon is a manifestation of that in Canada.”

The work comes out of research Twitter did showing that people who use the platform understand what it is for, but those who are not yet users find it confusing – for example, many people surveyed thought that they could only join Twitter if they had something to say and could commit to tweeting daily, as opposed to passively using it to check in on sporting events, the news, or other topics that interest them. The company believes that could be hindering user growth.

“I believe there’s a real opportunity to change perceptions. … What you’re seeing is a sharp focus on storytelling about who we are, what we are for, what we stand for,” Ms. Berland said. “There is a lot more to come.”

Twitter is looking to significantly change the way it promotes itself to prospective users, but also to advertisers.

“I’d be very disappointed if we weren’t in the market in a very different way,” Ms. Pearce said. “You should expect to see us being more vocal … and being off the platform more than before. How are we speaking to people that are not on Twitter?”

A big problem when it comes to Twitter’s brand identity is the high-profile stories of that goes on there, including hate speech directed at public figures, journalists and others – a problem certainly to Twitter, but for which the platform has gained a bad reputation.

This issue could both discourage new users from hopping on board, and could be a problem for advertisers who generally look for non-toxic environments in which to promote their brands.

“We’re definitely working on this. … There is going on in San Francisco right now that is one of our top priorities,” said Twitter Canada managing director Rory Capern. The company has created a trust and safety council working on how to respond to online trolls. “The line that we walk is between freedom of speech and safety. That is a very careful consideration for Twitter and always has been.”

Twitter is working on giving advertisers more reasons to consider spending money there. It has been introducing more ad products, such as branded “stickers” that can be added to photos. And a big priority is investing in video content. The company has announced deals to live-stream sports events with the National Hockey League, the National Football League and Major League Baseball right on Twitter, and running ads against those digital streams. In Canada, however, the video prospects are quite different thanks to streaming rights already locked up in many cases by the broadcasters who hold the television rights; here, Twitter is working on deals with those broadcasters to air highlight clips of sporting events shortly after they happen, sharing revenue for the ads that run before those clips. One example is its Olympics partnership with CBC, which has been Games , often with preroll ads.

“We know advertisers have a better opportunity to connect with people when they’re doing something they’re truly interested in,” Ms. Pearce said.

Of course, these are moves the other social networks are making as well: Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat are all building new ad products at a fast pace, and have all delved into video content. They are also aggressively expanding their measurement capabilities, to demonstrate return on investment on social-media advertising. In a cluttered ad market, Twitter will need to persuade advertisers that it has an edge over its social-media rivals – and prove just how much their investments in the platform ultimately pay off.

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Britain releases shock job numbers in wake of Brexit vote

Britain’s decision to leave the European Union was supposed to send unemployment soaring and drive thousands of people on to jobless benefits.

But government figures released on Wednesday showed that for the period from April to June, the country’s employment rate was at a record high while the unemployment rate held steady at 4.9 per cent. And the number of people claiming jobless benefits fell by 8,600 in July, one month after the vote to the leave the EU.

U.K. jobless numbers see surprise fall

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Andre De Grasse’s sponsors made a huge bet, but it paid off

When Canadian sprinter Andre De Grasse signed a sponsorship with Puma AG last December, he had not yet stepped on to the biggest stage in his sport, the Olympic track. But he was already breaking records: The multiyear, $11.25-million (U.S.) deal was the largest opening contract in the history of track and field, with bonuses that could push that amount much higher.

It was an unprecedented amount of money for unproven potential on the track. At the time, Mr. De Grasse was still far from a household name – even if he was already gaining buzz as the most promising Canadian runner in a generation. But now looks very smart.

The race to be the world’s fastest man is hands down the highest-profile event in the Summer Olympics. On Sunday evening, three men earned their place on the podium, and two were Puma athletes: Usain Bolt, the world’s greatest sprinter and the gold medalist, and Mr. De Grasse, who won bronze. (Justin Gatlin, the silver medalist who has served two doping suspensions in his career and was booed in the stadium, is a Nike athlete.) Mr. Bolt, who has exhibited a fraternal rapport with Mr. De Grasse on the track, has his Canadian competitor. “He runs just like me,” Mr. Bolt said after the race.

For Puma, that means even though the company is not an official Olympic sponsor, two of the biggest stars of the Games – the current face of sprinting and, arguably, its future – are tied to its brand.

“For me, it was different, because I was already the number one sprinter in the world and everything was already in place before I got there,” said Donovan Bailey, recalling his world-record-setting performance competing for Canada at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. “If someone comes to the Games and they do well … and also they’re young, their marketability is very high. Andre right now is in a great situation. He’s 21 years old. He’s got at least 10 years to be a professional track athlete. So he’s definitely a great investment.”

Sponsors are already buzzing about the athlete, said Brian Levine, managing director of Toronto-based Envision Sports & Entertainment Inc., who works with Mr. De Grasse in Canada. (His U.S. agent, Paul Doyle of Florida-based Doyle Management, negotiated the Puma deal.) He would not specify who has approached the management team so far. Mr. De Grasse’s stock could rise further if he manages to win a medal in the 200-metre final on Thursday.

“We hope he will be the face of sprinting heading into Tokyo. … [Puma] invested in potential,” Mr. Levine said. “All events are not created equally. … A bronze in the 100-metres is worth a gold in a less mainstream sport.”

As the Games approached, other sponsors jumped on board as well. Procter & Gamble Co.’s signed him in June. That was not early enough to include Mr. De Grasse in the brand’s “” Games ad, but the brand promotes its connection with and will hold an event to celebrate him at the P&G “Family Home” in Rio on Sunday.

“If you had to pick a headline event, the world’s fastest man is probably it,” said Kurt Iverson, communications leader for Gillette North America. “… With all the things happening for two weeks, it’s great to be part of such an iconic moment.”

Because athletes are now expected to be accessible to their fans on social media platforms such as Twitter and Instagram, the nature of sponsorship has changed drastically in the past decade. Mr. De Grasse excels at this, using his online megaphone to thank for its support; to promote P&G’s “Thank you, mom” campaign by posting a with his mother, Beverley; and even to share a behind-the-scenes from a commercial shoot with Pizza Pizza Ltd. in Markham, Ont.

Medal performance is not the sole draw for marketers. Canadian Tire Corp. Ltd. sports retail brand Sport Chek, for example, says it looks for whether the athlete’s complete story is compelling. For example, Sport Chek athlete Kaillie Humphries is a gold medalist in bobsled, but the brand was also thrilled when she came in last in a recent race: In January, she was part of the first all-female team to compete in the four-person bobsled at a World Cup event.

“We’re signing athletes because they’re a source of inspiration at the end of the day. You can be a source of inspiration even if you finish in fourth place,” said Frederick Lecoq, Sport Chek chief marketing officer. “Sponsorship used to be, I’m going to put a sign in an arena or I’m going to sign an athlete to appear in my ad. That’s the old days. Today you’re looking for people to tell stories. … The fact that athletes are very active on social media is critical. You’re able to reach their followers and connect emotionally with people who follow them. That’s interesting. Not just putting them on a billboard.”

That said, Mr. De Grasse is in consideration for Sport Chek – and probably plenty of other brands, Canadian and global, Mr. Lecoq said. The sprinter’s presence, and his performance under pressure, gives him a lot of traction with potential sponsors.

“He deserves the greatest support there is,” Mr. Bailey said. “He’s fearless, he gets out there. And he’s having fun, which is what I love.”

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We’ve seen the Vancouver housing movie before

Real estate peddlers in Canada’s hottest housing markets chalked up another remarkable month in July, as prices surged in Vancouver and Toronto and some nearby communities.

Vancouver home prices climbed for the 18th month in a row, with increases topping 2 per cent in each of the past six months, according to the latest Teranet-National Bank house price index. Prices were 24.3 per cent higher than a year earlier, nearly double Toronto’s rise and the biggest jump since the national tracking service was launched in 1999.

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