What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a Canadian province or territory? You probably think of what they’re best known for, such as skiing in the Rockies or eating lobster in the Maritimes. Even if you haven’t been to a particular province or territory before, you probably know something about it thanks to their tourism boards, which are responsible for marketing and branding.
“I like seeing marketing in everything that we do; it’s how we perceive the world,” says Warren Pinto. A master’s student in the Department of Marketing and Consumer Studies, he studies how provinces and territories market themselves. He says marketing is not just a tool for selling goods and services; it can also promote geographic areas. “It’s an evolving field, and it’s fun to be working at a university that gives me the opportunity to explore it in so many different ways.”
He says he enjoys being a student in the College of Management and Economics (CME) because the college encourages collaboration between departments. Pinto has already worked on a paper about food recalls with Prof. Sylvain Charlebois, associate dean of CME, and is now studying the marketing of provincial and territorial identities with Prof. Statia Elliot, School of Hospitality and Tourism Management.
He’s currently interviewing the CEOs of destination marketing organizations in Canada to learn more about their branding strategy. “A brand isn’t one person’s perspective,” says Pinto, referring to the variety of stakeholders such as businesses and the tourism industry that help define a region’s brand.
Tourism in Canada is governed by the Canadian Tourism Commission (CTC), and every province and territory has its own tourism commission. With so many cultural and geographic regions in Canada, he says, it makes sense for each region to have its own marketing strategy. “I’ve always known that Canada is amazing,” says Pinto, who hails from Winnipeg, Man. “There’s so much that Canada has to offer,” but it’s important for provinces and territories to advertise what makes them unique to tourists, especially those from outside North America.
He says one of the keys to effective branding is for a region to capitalize on its strengths. The Yukon, for example, prides itself for its natural beauty.
But what’s a province to do if it’s best known for being flat? Pinto says Saskatchewan is capitalizing on its ability to provide tourists with an authentic “home on the range” experience. Research by the CTC has shown that western Europeans in particular think of Canada as a ranching destination. “There’s a lot of ranch operators in Saskatchewan who want to give people that ‘country boy’ or ‘country girl’ experience.”
If he could travel to any Canadian province or territory, where would he go? “I’d love to see Newfoundland,” says Pinto. “It just has the coolest culture.” He’s also interested in learning how the Maritimes are boosting their tourism efforts to help cope with a declining fishing industry.
Food is also a marker of both regional and national identity, and Pinto has studied the impact of food recalls on consumer confidence with Charlebois. Unlike recalls of other types of consumer goods, food recalls affect consumers on a deeper level, says Pinto. “Food isn’t only something you ingest; it’s a cultural good.”
While studying the XL Foods beef recall, he found a less than drastic impact on beef consumption, partly because beef is such an integral part of the Canadian diet, and few alternatives to beef exist. Six months after the recall, up to 85 per cent of the study’s participants said their beef consumption had returned to pre-recall levels.
“A lot of our participants didn’t change their pattern at all,” says Pinto, adding that beef consumption is “so embedded in what it means to be a Canadian consumer.”