Comparing Canadian and US Consumers

Comparing consumers in different countries can be challenging. I must confess to having doubts about a lot of cross-cultural research. I worry it is what nice middle class people do when they want to stereotype while still seeing themselves as free of prejudice. Suffice it to say that comparing countries and their peoples is fraught with challenges.

With that in mind I saw this interesting piece by Ferley, Lea and Watson from 1999. “A Comparison of U.S. and Canadian Consumers”. The authors are not trying to describe the world nor come up with any overarching theory of the differences between Americans and Canadians which is probably for the best.

They use existing survey data and various clustering techniques in the US and Canada. This imperfectly matches so “[c]onsiderable care was taken to include in the bi-country analysis only those product categories where the phrasing of questions is relatively close between the PPMB [Canadian] and SSM [US] studies” (Ferley, Lea and Watson, 1999, page 55). They describe how there are considerable differences between the US and Canada, but also within the countries. The conclusion is true but a bit amusing in the way it hedges its bets. “The paper proposes that, while there are many similarities in product-usage patterns between the two countries, there are also many differences….” (Ferley, Lea and Watson, 1999, page 55). That is hard to argue with but not as shocking a finding as many might like.

To be fair they do go into details and have backing information for various products. They adopt a sensible, practical view of market research that would be useful for managers — even if it lacks the sort of (likely over-egged) punchline that academic papers usually love.

My favorite aspect is their textual description of the differences between Canadians and US consumers. It seemed like it had been written by a Canadian as it emphasises many things Canadians are proud of. (To be fair these are good things to be proud of). “Pragmatic tolerance is the rule [in Canada] rather than a clearly defined identity dictated by tradition” (Ferley, Lea and Watson, 1999, page 57). “Canada may be seen as paving the way to a “postmodern” pluralism, where having one identity does not preclude also having another” (Ferley, Lea and Watson, 1999, page 57). For the more practically minded marketers they also found (in 1999) Canadians bought a lot more wine.

Read: Stephen Ferley, Tony Lea, and Barry Watson. (1999) “A comparison of US and Canadian consumers.” Journal of Advertising Research 39, (5) 55-66.