A brief history of discounting in Canada

In the 1950’s Steinbach’s car salesmen were the top of the country selling more than 250 cars annually. But that wasn’t good enough.

In 1960 the Steinbach’s car dealers held a special promotion where anyone who came to Steinbach to buy a car had their hotel, restaurant and transportation paid for by the Steinbach Dealer Association. People came not only from Manitoba but also from Saskatchewan and Alberta.

Many other business owners took note. The rest is history, greed and folly.

  • Over 60 years of discount promotions have taught three generations to shop for the lowest price and avoid the MSRP at all cost – pun intended.
  • The discount mentality has spread like a deadly virus to every product or service category.
  • Major markets like Winnipeg have become so obsessed with getting the lowest price on an item they will abandon local merchants and drive all the way to Grand Forks to get a ‘better (cheaper) deal’.
  • Low price promotion shoppers are so addicted to getting more for less that they do not care that they are ruining the economies of their home town, province and Canada to get their fix.
  • Discounting forces manufacturers and service providers to move their companies out of Canada.
  • Small service businesses depend on customers that believe that quality and service are important.
  • Large businesses dredge the market with low price promotions and reduce small business survival rates.
  • Countless studies show that a customer that is treated well and is educated along the way is far more loyal and will pay more for and item. This bodes VERY well for smart manufacturers who are able to reinvest their higher profits into R&D that leads to better, more satisfying products.

I dare you to do promotions with a higher calling.

I dare you to look at your business and customers differently and ask yourself “how can I serve them better?

I dare you to look at your business the way Mr. Jack Layton looked at Canadians.

“My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.”

I dare you.


Can I come home to your brand?

The first store I can recall going to is Mikie’s Corner Store. Mikie was my first brand ambassador and I was four years old. His place offered me everything I could imagine and a whole lot more than I could afford. When I was seven, we moved from Parkdale to High Park and I got to know Pete’s Sunny Bar. Pete’s store was right across from Annette public school and he held me and four other generations of students captive until he died a few years ago. Now his daughter does the same. In high school, there was Mr. Yonka’s Variety Store. I bought my first pack of cigarettes there. Summer jobs and University took me downtown to a whole new world called Yonge Street.

This is what Yonge St. looked like in the 70's - and how it looks now.


All those people, lights, sights and sounds drew me away from the corner stores I had grown up with and exposed me to a whole new world of products and services – most of which I had never imagined. My old ‘brand loyalties’ were severed as I explored the shops and bars of Yonge Street by night and worked or attended school a few streets over by day. I was 16.

As a little boy my loyalty was to a Mikie’s Corner Store and the brands my parents told me I could trust.

Psychology played a big part in my shopping destination and purchase decision.

As a teenager I sought out stores that allowed me to experiment with new people, products and services that my parents did NOT approve of. Discretion became an important purchase variable. 

Psychology played a big part in my shopping destination and purchase decisions.

As a young (and then mature) advertising professional, I remained on Yonge Street another 20 years working for agencies like Foster, MacLaren, Baker Lovick and Ogilvy & Mather. The street changed, my needs changed. Now I knew what I wanted, when I wanted it and how I wanted it. I found a handful of stores that served me well and they still have my business today.

Psychology still plays a big part in my shopping destination and purchase decisions.

The world wide web works the very same way. On any given day there are some people who are using the web for the first time, and some who are closing their web browser for the last time.

We need to think of the online experience as an extension of the off-line experience – and vice versa –  because cognitive dissonance comes into play when you offer customers on and offline experiences that are not congruent.

Whether you’re building your online brand or offline brand presence, get to know all of your customers: the young and the old, the new and the regular, to ensure that you understand what they are buying and how they are using what they buy. Their product and service utility insights will help you ensure that your brand is mentally ‘visible’:  that I can find it, stay with it for life, or come home to it after I’ve gone through my exploration phase.

Aspirin™ is the first brand my mother introduced me to and is still my friend. I use it the same way she does. Duct tape is different. A few years ago my son made me a gorgeous silver duct tape kilt. He changed how I look at that product, where and how I now position it.

The two safest places for a brand are in the user’s heart and mind.

Streets and web addresses change. But, like any good friend, you’ll track down those you love.


Brand Extensions

Brand extensions are funny things. Most will advise you to tread carefully because poorly executed brand extensions will diminish your brand equity. While I’ll go alone with the others on that, designs like this demonstrate that the essence of the brand extension discussion should not be about ‘what’, but how. I sold Vespa’s one summer in Winnipeg. The folks that bought Vespa’s were a special bunch. I know their long cold winters nights would have been made just a lot brighter with this Vespa desk-lamp.




Gordon Lightfoot and Lady Gaga


Two weeks ago I watched Lady Gaga’s Monster Ball tour and last Friday I went to see Gorden Lightfoot play Massey Hall – perhaps for the last time. I wanted to see LGG’s show because I like her message, lyrics and strong branding. I think ‘Born This Way’ is brilliant because it will help many folks out there take pride in the skin they’re in a whole lot more. Lady Gaga reminds me of a rocket launch. It’s loud, spectacular, engaging and makes one hell of a statement. I look forward to seeing how she and her message evolves over time.

I wanted to see Mr. Lightfoot live one last time. He reminds me of Voyager 1 (launched in 1977, to study the outer Solar System and eventually interstellar space, it is the first probe to leave the Solar System and is the farthest man made object from Earth.) GordonLightfoot has been on the road now for over 46 years. The message Voyager and Mr. Lightfoot send home on a regular basis have not changes for a long time and are comfortingly consistent in their tone and manner – although the signal is getting weaker.

American Idol just helped launch a few more artists into orbit this season. It will be interesting to see which ones fizzle out on the launch-pad, which ones are able to surpass the orbit of Lady Gaga and where they’ll be in 40 or 50 years from now.

When you’re laying track for your own brand identity or that of a corporate brand it’s important to step back, and get some perspective on what you’re doing and why.

Instead of sorting paper-clips or navel gazing to find the answer – try astral projection: go look at things from Voyager 1′s perspective.

Leslee Silverman and Denny Crane at Gov. Gen. Performing Arts Awards


Here’s a great Free Press reprint about our friend Leslee posing with Denny Crane (AKA William Shatner & Captain Kirk) at the Governor General’s Performing Arts Awards.

Silverman presented with Governor General’s Performing Arts Award

Leslee Silverman, the longtime artistic director of Manitoba Theatre for Young People, received Canada’s most prestigious performing-arts honour at Rideau Hall on Friday.

She was one of six Canadians presented with the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award for lifetime artistic achievement. The award comes with a $25,000 prize.

Her fellow laureates are actor William Shatner, Oscar-winning composer Howard Shore, Quebec humorist Yvon Deschamps, dancer/choreographer Margie Gillis and theatre creator Paul Thompson.

Silverman, a Wolseley resident, has led MTYP for nearly 30 years, since its inception in 1982. She is recognized as a national leader in the field of theatre for young audiences.

She was instrumental in the 1999 creation of MTYP’s performance facility at The Forks, the only one of its kind in English Canada to be built from the ground up. She has commissioned plays from major Canadian playwrights and has directed 80 shows.

She was the first recipient in 2003 of the Manitoba Arts Council Arts Award of Distinction, recognizing the highest level of artistic excellence and distinguished career achievement.