On Toronto Not Being the Centre of the Universe

Blitz Magazine, September 2002

torontoWhen I started this magazine five years ago, I got a lot of comments and advice from people, but one particular set of comments still sticks in my mind. It came from an agency guy in Toronto, who said: “What? You’re going to start a national B2B magazine from Vancouver? Are you nuts? Even with national distribution, you’ll have a helluva time getting the national advertisers in. Nobody wants to advertise B2B to western Canada. No one in Toronto gives a shit about western Canada.”

Blitz doesn’t just go to western Canada, of course. It goes to 5,000 in the east, 5,000 in the west. This guy’s point, though, was that, to national advertisers, the latter 5,000 doesn’t matter.

I thought he was being silly—just another sufferer of Toronto-is-the-Centre-of-the-Universe Syndrome. The spread of the disease, however, continues apace. Just the other day, a national publisher told me that he had met a young man who was an excellent writer, but whose career was certainly going to go nowhere because he’d never been anywhere but Toronto—and, worse, had no interest in leaving Toronto, or in anything not related to Toronto.

I recently spoke with the creative director of a Toronto advertising agency who said that he was having difficulty figuring out how to tweak his client’s creative for a particular BC demographic. When I suggested that he consult with a Vancouver agency (duh), the line went quiet—I think he may have temporarily blacked out. (Then he asked me to send him a list of agencies.)

Magazine editors aren’t supposed to sell advertising. But I’m also the publisher and have to do it. Unfortunately, a lot of people forget that I’m likely to write about what I hear and learn, so they drop things into conversations which they may not otherwise say to a journalist. Things that make me feel a little sick.

The media buyer for Microsoft actually silenced me with the idiocy of this remark: “Microsoft doesn’t advertise in business publications which have a large BC circulation. At the B2B level, Microsoft is only interested in advertising to companies with more than 400 employees. BC doesn’t have any companies that large.”

This comment: “We’re not interested in Blitz because it has editorial relating to western Canada,” came from the marketing director of the Canadian Press.

The media buyers—indeed, the marketing people, for ‘Canada’s national newspaper’, the Globe & Mail, don’t bother returning calls. How often does the National Post advertise to western media buyers and marketers? What about the CBC? Never and never.

I could go on for an hour, naming company after company which, rather than advertising to the media communications community in all of the Canada, prefer to spend large sums of money on advertising to the same people in Toronto, over and over, year after year.  Reminder advertising is necessary but, in this case, it’s at the expense of untold amounts of potential new business.

While it’s true that the size of this country has always made it hard for Canadians to achieve the sense of ‘oneness’ which binds other nations, none of this makes any sense. Vancouver is Canada’s second-largest market. ‘Neglect of the West’ has been a political/economic complaint since Confederation, but it never occurred to me that corporate Canada could be so incredibly short-sighted as to think that businesses in BC (and Alberta) don’t need to be advertised to—that they somehow suffer from inferior spending habits, or aren’t savvy marketers, or don’t know how to compete.

It is a conundrum. A psychological puzzle that needs to be solved. If anyone out there has any solutions, ideas, explanations, I’m sure that all of those Canadians who live outside of Ontario’s borders would love to hear them.

Frederick Varley: Visions of Paradise

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Group of Seven founding member Frederick Horsman Varley, who lived in Vancouver from 1926 to 1936, saw British Columbia as Paradise on Earth.

In BC, the Post-Impressionist was inspired to apply colour, composition and Buddhist theory to landscapes and individuals in new, wondrous forms. BC was Varley’s muse; once he left, he never again experienced such exciting and sustained creativity.

Varley was a romantic and sensualist who loved the ideal of the freedom found in nature, and the spiritual and physical beauty of women. Though not a devotee of any one religious or philosophical code, a curiosity in mysticism and Asian philosophies evolved from his anxiety toward modern life—he regarded Eastern notions as an antidote to the Western focus on mechanization and moral conservatism. During his time in Vancouver, he believed that objects and individuals emanated an aura and he developed a theory attributing specific psychological means to each colour, casting his paintings around one or two specific hues.

An Englishman who emigrated to Canada in 1912, Varley began his career in Toronto as a commercial designer, working with most of his future Group colleagues. After completing his commission as a war artist, he returned to the Group and, upon its triumph, became known as one of Canada’s leading portrait and landscape artists. But his restless nature, and his desire to escape debtors and crossed friendships, prevailed. He moved to Vancouver in search of a new life and fresh ideas.

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He became a teacher at the Vancouver School of Decorative and Applied Art (now Emily Carr University), where he was adored by his students. But when the Depression hit, he received the highest pay cut. He indignantly resigned and, with Jock Macdonald, opened the BC College of Arts, taking half the student body with him.

Although the school was regarded as being at the forefront of progressive art and his creativity was prodigious, Varley was forever in debt. His family had been twice evicted; they had no furniture, no food. Varley, who had fallen in love with one of his students, left his wife and four children and moved to North Vancouver’s Lynn Valley. Then the school went out of business, it was time to get outa’ Dodge and he moved to Ottawa.

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When he died near Toronto in 1969, Varley left behind 500 oils, watercolours and sketches—a stunning body of work, and now a cherished part of Canada’s national heritage.

Blitz Magazine, November 1999

On Automobiles, Advertising & Talking to Americans

Blitz Magazine, January 2003

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I’m sitting in traffic, in my Mustang. We’re not going anywhere and I have no idea why. Because I can’t see a thing. I am surrounded by SUVs. And I start to think about how gullible people are. We know that, in an accident, an SUV is 30% more likely to roll and 25% more likely to kill the other driver. We know that, by virtue of their size, SUVs increase traffic volume, thereby increasing the amount of time vehicles are on the road, thus the amount of fuel burned. We know that SUVs burn more fuel individually, and that they cost more to insure. Yet people keep buying them.

I prefer the European attitude toward automobiles. They’re mere appliances, made of steel and plastic and rubber and fibre. Their purpose is to get people from point A to point B, in a safe and efficient manner, with some speed and a little fun thrown in. If you look at any European street, it’s clear that people there don’t care about dents and scratches, or dust and mud. I have an English friend who drives an old Bentley. It makes strange sounds, smells of cigars and is usually full of damp dogs, but it’s fuel-efficient and there’s no point in fixing something that ain’t broke. Over there, people like nice cars, but cars are by no means the status symbols that they are on this side of the pond.

In North America, automobile advertising has people believing that, without an SUV, people might not be able to drive up mountains—as many of us so often have to. Worse, advertising has people believing that SUVs are safe, and that they’re essential for good parenting. That a huge van with a built-in entertainment system is a must for childhood happiness, or that the ability to reconfigure seating will keep kids from fighting. I spend $80 a month on gas, which is barely enough to get the average SUV-wielding soccer mom to and from Wal-Mart. In fact, the money that parents spend on these contraptions each year far exceeds the annual tuition at most private schools.

The other message being swallowed is speed. (I should admit here that speed has always been a problem for me. In fact, I flunked my first driving test by going over the speed limit.) But, in Vancouver as, I’m sure, in other cities, speed has become an increasingly deadly problem.

On the one hand, there’s a huge population of recent yuppies who are too busy to drive their teen-agers anywhere. It’s a lot easier just to buy them their own high-performance cars—and trust them. On the other hand, Vancouver has a huge population of Asian immigrants. These people work hard and prosper in their new county, and they want to give their kids (especially their sons) everything their hearts desire. And they’re new to the culture, so they’re finding their way through that culture’s media.

In both cases, if the family prize wants the newest, fastest car on the lot? No problem! ‘Course, he could end up blind, paralyzed, dead or in jail… Recently, in a Vancouver suburb, road-racing teens snuffed out the life of a 30 year-old RCMP officer. This week, the officer’s parents (also Asian immigrants) were on the news—he was their only child and the item was on how they’re working with local government to stop road racing. The broadcast then went to commercial—it was a spot from Subaru, about its newest, fastest car. It’s ‘rally-proven!’

So now the question is, how socially responsible will advertisers be forced to become? We can’t advertise tobacco. We can’t show anyone drinking liquor. There are strict rules governing promotion of those products and only hypocrites can support those rules while claiming that the Zoom Zoom Zoom commercials don’t contribute to dangerous behaviour.

Obesity is a huge problem among North America’s youth, with a thoroughly preventable disorder saddling millions of kids with diabetes and heart disease. What’s this going to do to the rules of advertising for McDonald’s? Coca Cola? Chips, pop, doughnuts? Candy, chocolate bars? Pizza? Or those fat-packed, salt-soaked pre-made meals people keep buying?

We know that one cause of obesity is a sedentary lifestyle. What’s going to happen to the marketing of video games? Computers? And now Canada has ratified the Kyoto Accord and we are committed to reducing greenhouse gases. What’s going to happen to that automobile advertising? I have no answers here—but I do know that the future of marketing is going to be very interesting.

The whole Kyoto storm was another amusement. There’s Alberta Premier Ralph Klein, touting the oil industry line that cutting greenhouse gases is going to cost thousands of jobs and all kinds of money. Meanwhile, the precious Alberta beef industry depends (duh) on climate. Following the worst drought in the memory of every farming community on the Canadian prairies (the ‘bread-basket of the world’), Alberta farmers were shipping their cows to slaughter and entering lotteries in which the prizes were rail car-loads of moldy hay.

BC Premier Gordon Campbell took the same position as Klein. But Vancouver and its environs are now legally committed to bidding on the 2010 Winter Olympics. I’m writing this on December 16th. Vancouver’s famed winter rain arrived last week—two months late. I have a garden full of flowers, and the local mountains have yet to see a snowflake. Let’s hope that Whistler/Blackcomb can make enough snow by the time the Olympic Selection Committee gets here.

In the US, it’s ‘Global warming? What global warming?’ Rising sea levels are causing the United States to physically, and rapidly, shrink. Inestimable damage is done every year by increasingly intense storms, and American farmers are no happier than Canadian farmers. Cross-border smog has created an epidemic of asthma among Ontario children; in summer, from the sky, Toronto is barely visible. There are pockets of Texas where up to 40% of the population suffers from respiratory ailments and cancer is rampant. Ah, yes, Texas. Home of the World’s Most Dangerous Man.

There’s little doubt that, when Jean Chretien’s communications director called George Bush a ‘moron’, it was one helluva PR gaff—even though she was telling the truth. But it made me recall a famous quote by Barbara Bush. It took place at a party celebrating Dubya’s first Texas gubernatorial election. Babs, not realizing that there was a journalist behind her, reportedly turned to her daughter and said: “Can you believe this?”

If a guy’s mother doesn’t think he should be in public office, he shouldn’t be in public office. But Babs raised Dubya to do what he’s told, and he’s doing it. Texas industry put him in power and the result if now evident there. American industry put him in national power and the damage is evident everywhere else. Two years of this guy and the world is a disaster. Last night, Al Gore announced that he won’t run in the next presidential election; I get the feeling that he thinks he might not be able to fix things. On the same broadcast of 60 Minutes, Donald Rumsfeld was shown telling Steve Croft that the war on Iraq has ‘Nothing to do with oil. Nothing whatsoever’.

He’s lying. And everyone knows he’s lying. Senior US cabinet officials are popping up all over the place, doing as many interviews as they possibly can, trying to sell a war that has no credible basis. It’s gone past the point of ridiculousness to the point of comedy. Every day, there are reports that UN weapons inspectors have found nothing, and that they have unfettered access to suspected sites. And, almost every day, the British or American PR machines come out with a ‘new’ piece of ‘evidence’. ‘Oh,’ they say, ‘We’ve had this evidence for years—we just didn’t tell anyone.’ Who do they think they’re kidding?

Anyway, what set me off on this tangent is a 60-minute re-run of Rick Mercer’s Talking to Americans. At one time one of the funniest concepts on TV, watching it became one depressing experience. As you’ll recall, Mercer would ask Americans to comment on outrageously stupid ideas. So we see Americans congratulating Canada on legalizing insulin and staplers, the completion of 800 miles of paved road, getting a second area code and becoming part of North America. ‘Hysterically funny.

Then a professor at Columbia University signs a petition against placing Canadian senior citizens adrift on ice floes. A professor at Harvard, after proudly proclaiming that he received tenure in 1965, agrees that Irish-Canadians should be allowed to vote. A professor at Boston College considers the merits of Canada’s honouring of its treaty with Chief Gordon Lightfoot and allowing an annual rhino hunt. A professor at Stanford concurs with the notion of sending ground troops into Saskatchewan. And the governor of Arkansas congratulates Canada on getting FM radio. And they’re all serious.

When these spots first aired, Bill Clinton was president of the United States. If the American media had been less obsessed with his sex life, the world may be in better shape today; he recently told David Letterman that all of ‘that’ definitely distracted his administration from the hunt for Osama bin Laden, which began in the early ‘90s.

There was never any doubt about Clinton’s intellect. The guy is probably a genius. And when someone that sharp is running the show, other types of ignorance can be funny.

Now, ignorance is as deadly as any other weapon. And the Leader of the Free World (shudder here) is a dimwit. His ignorance is a staple on Saturday Night Live. It is commonly discussed on the late night talk shows. It’s now mentioned by mainstream journalists, as if it’s OK. But it’s not OK. While one can occasionally see a dim flicker of understanding in those tiny little eyes, there’s little doubt that he’s not the one running show. He’s being handled. Who by? Who knows? PR experts certainly, but who are they and what agenda do they have?

 My thoughts return, again, to how gullible people are. Americans in particular. There should have been massive protest, even civil disobedience, when Bush was elected in the shadiest of shady elections. There wasn’t. Texans voted for the guy because he likes to talk tough—they love that ‘Don’t Mess With Texas’ mantra. Just a few months ago, Americans had a chance to reduce the number of Republicans in office, reduce Bush’s power and damage his chances for re-election. Yet barely 25% of them turned out to vote.

My conclusion is that North Americans have adopted the mentality of sheep. If it’s advertised, buy it. If a politician says it, it must be true. If it’s in the papers, it’s gotta’ be real. Perhaps this mentality is not new, but it’s never been more unhealthy, more damaging, or more dangerous. And what we all want—what we all absolutely need—is for everyone to start telling the truth.

 

The Molson Indy: Quick Thinking (Or How To Change A Race Around Without Losing Your Motorheads)

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Blitz Magazine, September 1998 

   

‘Chances are, you know a Motorhead. Someone who loves motorsports, who know the drivers and cars, who watches racing, reads about racing, plans vacations around racing.

          BC has lots of Motorheads. And lots of party hounds. Together, the two groups have propelled a beer promotion into an international sporting event.

          The Molson Indy began in Toronto in 1986. It was an immediate success; three years later, Molson decided to put a race in Vancouver.

          Until this year, the Vancouver Indy took place on the north False Creek shore, on land owned by international developer Concord Pacific Group. That site borders city property which, in turn, holds General Motors Place, BC Place Stadium and the Plaza of Nations — and includes busy roads and bridges. Obviously, landlord support was essential.

          Concord was immediately supportive. “Concord sells condos worldwide,” notes Stuart Ballantyne, General Manager of the Vancouver Indy. “For three hours each year, its Vancouver development is seen by 30 million people in 195 countries. It’s good advertising.”

          It took a little more to convince Vancouver City Council. “The Indy was a proven commodity in Toronto, but Vancouverites don’t necessarily care if something is successful in Toronto. Council wanted to know that we would do what we said we’d do — it had to be successful.”

          It’s been tremendously successful. Despite the fact that Toronto can pull from Ontario’s huge population, plus that of Quebec, New York and Michigan, Vancouver attendance is greater. While Toronto’s attendance hit an all-time high of 168,000 in July, Vancouver attendance has always edged 170,000, with 67% from Greater Vancouver, 25% from Alberta and BC and 8% from the US.

          The Molson Indy Vancouver is one of 19 races in the FedEx Championship Series. FedEx is the series sponsor, the series is owned by Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) and the two Canadian races are owned by Molstar Sports & Entertainment, a division of Molson Breweries.

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          The Molson Indy cars are Champ cars or ‘customer cars’ — the team buys a car from a factory and an engine from an engine manufacturer. (Formula 1 cars are custom-designed and -built.) It costs $10.-$25. million to operate a Champ car and that money comes from sponsors, hence logo-plastered cars and drivers.

          In North America, there are four circuits: the super-speedway, the permanent road circuit, the short oval and the temporary street circuit, which is what the Vancouver race is. Every Labour Day week-end since 1990, this has meant bridge and street closures and lots of wingeing. But, says Ballantyne, “Vancouverites have been enthusiastic from the beginning.”

          The majority anyway. There have always been complaints about noise, pollution and the glorification of the automobile.

          “Some people believe that racing is not conducive to their environment,” continues Ballantyne. “But we do not pollute–Indy cars run on methanol, which burns more cleanly than the fuel we all use in our cars. For three days each year, we make a lot of noise. But that noise brings $20. million in direct economic benefit to the city. And there are no tax dollars involved.”

          Which is good news to other Vancouverites, who don’t care about pollution but don’t want to pay for the race. So Molstar pays. And pays. To construct the track and facilities. To pave and re-pave roads. For police, fire and ambulance services. It rents all land used by the race. Until this year, the race locked in BC Place Stadium, GM Place and the Plaza of Nations, so Molstar had to rent the three facilities and their parking lots.

          That changed when Concord’s development caught up to the track — a condo tower now sits at the former Indy hairpin turn. The track had to be moved. Motorheads freaked. Ballantyne had to find a new venue.

          There was furious rejection by Hastings Park residents. Surrey is too far away, various farmers’ fields lacked parking and transit access. Then Vancouver Mayor Phillip Owen came up with a plan–to shift the track southeast, along Quebec Street and onto the grungy wasteland south of Science World.

          Now everyone wonders why no one thought of this before. Because the new track is much better–a 2.9 km, 320 kph horseshoe, running around False Creek and Science World. With its waterfront setting and clear mountain views, it’s the most beautiful setting on the FedEx circuit. Traffic inconvenience is reduced, opportunities for entertainment and profit are increased — on race week-end, GM Place and BC Place hosted concerts and football and the Plaza of Nations became Indy’s front door and site of its MotorSport Show. Forty per cent of Indy-goers get there via transit and the new site holds two SkyTrain stations and a bus loop. The Science World park allows for more general admission guests; seating increased from 40,000 to 45,000.

          Most importantly, the race is better for Motorheads. Norman Stowe is president of The Pace Group, which handles media and public relations for the Vancouver Indy. This year, Stowe had the additional task of reassuring the race’s 70,000+ hard-core fans.

          “They needed to know the fundamentals — that the new track was faster and more demanding, with more turns and more passing opportunities, which is what fans and drivers want. We showed them how we used computers to analyze the track from the spectator and driver perspectives. And we had driver support– Greg Moore helped design the course, and he and Christian Fittipaldi and Patrick Carpentier went out on the track with the media.”

          Stowe says that media support is paramount. “We stay in touch all year and take media members to spring training in Florida. This year we showed them the new track from the air, then had them race carts on a scaled-down version. We also have strong partnerships with media organizations. The people who support the race financially get their opinion of it from the media. If the race isn’t playing well in the media it would be a much harder sell.”

          Each year, 600 accredited media members show up. Most are ‘hard cards’–professional motorsports writers who know the protocol, the cars, the drivers and the teams and need little attention. Then there is the local media, the aforementioned partners who start on Fathers’ Day with province-wide promotions. Indy does not allow media exclusivity, so everyone gets to leverage their participation.

          “We work with sponsors and media partners to make sure everyone gets the most from the dollars they commit,” says Linda Wirkowski, Molstar’s Director of Marketing & Communications. “Sponsors and partners do their own advertising and have their own objectives, but we know what the event can deliver. So we get them to team up. We have sponsor-partner workshops where we exchange ideas and see how we can all get the biggest bang for our buck.”

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          Wirkowski says that Molstar doesn’t have the resources to organize the race on its own. It is an enormous undertaking. It has five full-time employees; volunteers make that 2,000 by race week-end. Track and facility construction begins in March; it takes a month to dismantle everything. And the fact that its owner is a national brewery does not mean that funds are unlimited; Molstar has to find its own money.

          Indy sponsorships run from $75,000.00 for local programs, to $1. million for Molson partnerships. Benefits can include pre- and post-event marketing rights, usage rights of the Indy name and logo and product category exclusivity. Sponsors have access to the event customer database and logo placement on 63 on-site banners and signs. They receive broadcast time on the PA system, their spots appear on the grandstand video display screens, they can have four 30-second commercials a day and one five-minute feature piece.

          The Indy demographic is 71% men, half age 26-44. Half of attendees earn $35,000.00 to $75,000.00; half are professionals and executives. Sponsorship is, therefore, a great way to generate sales, boost visibility and introduce products. So selling sponsorships must be easy.

          “It’s a tough sell,” explains Ballantyne. “We used to have categories and sponsors just chose one. Now, a car company wants this, a food company wants that. We identify targets, come up with ideas, float them to prospects and see what sticks. Sometimes we’re not there. Making auto racing relevant to a cosmetics company takes a lot of creativity.

          “It also takes a lot effort to do the fulfillment. And every sponsor needs something different. Burger King wants to be a local sponsor but not do the national campaign. BC Tel doesn’t need national exposure; the auto and tobacco companies want the big campaigns.”

          The tobacco thing is a problem. Tobacco is a major supporter of motorsports. But the federal government is proceeding with the anti-tobacco Bill C71 and this could kill racing in Canada.

          “Bill C71 has a dramatic effect on our ability to stage this race,” continues Ballantyne. “At one time, C71 was going to ban every car funded by tobacco–Canadian or American. Well, if Marlborough can’t have its name on a car in Canada, Marlborough isn’t coming to Canada. C71, as it was first written, would have put us out of business. But we asked for an amendment and that amendment will continue until the US and Canadian legislation lines up.

         “Player’s alone spends $1. million on Indy. But it’s not just the money–Player’s has its own team and driver development program and we’ll lose immeasurable promotional value. We’re negotiating for Player’s to go further, but we’re going to have to replace that money — and we’ve not been able to, despite the fact that we have Canada’s two most successful sponsorship events.”

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          When asked about the special interest groups who’d like to see alcohol producers knocked out of sponsorship contention, the affable Ballantyne becomes less affable.

          “Beer is a legal product with a legal right to advertise. That right is accorded by governments who take tax revenue from that legal product. If the product is going to remain legal, then the people producing the product should be allowed to market it in a way which makes sense to them.”

          The Vancouver Indy takes in about $12. million and takes home about $1. million. There are five main revenue-generating areas: sponsorships, corporate hospitality packages, concession licensing, broadcasting and ticket sales.

          Molstar is paid for the broadcast by ESPN and the host broadcaster, the CBC; and it provides a world feed to CART. Broadcast production is not a big money-maker, but it helps.

          Percentages of merchandise, program and food and beverage sales also sweeten the pot. Molstar doesn’t want to have to worry about feeding 75,000 people so it licenses vendors, from the majors like Burger King, to professional concessionaires, to Mom ‘n Pop operations.

          Corporate hospitality packages are marketed as a way of networking, entertaining clients, rewarding employees and meeting celebrities. Corporations buy group-ticket packages or entertain 150 in Chalets, host 20 in Turn One Boxes or, for $25,000.00, buy 40-seat Pit Row Suites. These programs also include things like driver autographs, Paul Newman sightings and passes to the ancillary races (the Sports Car Club of BC Invitational, the Player’s Challenge for the KOOL Atlantic Championship and the PPG/Dayton Indy Lights).

          “A company can invest $40,000.00 in the hospitality options — for an international motorsports event, that’s pretty affordable,” says Ballantyne. “Sales go up every year; we had 75 private boxes or suites this year. We market hospitality through direct mail to our existing corporate list and to new sectors — this year, it was doctors, lawyers and pharmaceutical companies. Also new this year was a program to allow home-based businesses to buy seats within private boxes. We always have to think of new things to do.”

          Finally, there are ticket sales, with three-day general admission passes priced at $45.00 and three-day seats ranging from $60.00 to $170.00. This is where Molstar spends around $1. million on marketing — ‘not much for an event like this.

          “We can’t market Indy without the support of our media partners,” says Wirkowski. “One of our major accomplishments has been to generate tremendous awareness with more contra than cash. In return, we constantly look for ways to provide value for our sponsors, our partners and our fans. We have to make sure that everyone gets their money’s worth.

          “We do on-site research to collect data for sponsors and determine how to market ourselves. We find out what Indy-goers want. We sell tickets on-line, we use telemarketing to keep in touch with customers, then we follow up by mailing brochures, maps and information about early-bird offers, which give fans the chance to buy early and get the same seats each year.”

          Wirkowski writes the marketing plan for both races. That plan is then tweaked for Vancouver.

          “Vancouver and Toronto require very different approaches,” says Ballantyne. “Torontonians like to be part of the Big Happening. Vancouverites are race fans. In Vancouver, the nature of the site makes more of a difference. Toronto has a huge, high-tech trade centre next to the pit lane and the trade show is a much bigger component. Vancouverites want to be outside and be entertained by things unrelated to racing — this year we had concerts, volleyball, rock climbing and dragon boat demonstrations. Indy competes with theatre, football, concerts, golf, vacations — we have to make it appealing.”

          The creative for both races comes from BBDO Canada; the day-to-day work is handled by BBDO’s promotional arm, Generator Ideaworks. The race requires tons of material — posters, maps, programs, brochures, sponsorship and media kits, bus kings, billboards, print ads. This year, there was a five-week, four-station radio campaign and an eight-week television campaign.

          “We had three things to say this year,” says Jan Fricker, the Indy account director at Generator. “First, that the race was actually on. Secondly, that the new track was better. Finally, that people should buy tickets. We used the lines ‘The World’s Fastest Long Week-End Just Got Faster’ and ‘Think Fast’, and we ran lots of promotions, from little win-tickets things to a car give-away.”

          But what about the beer?

          Generator president Brad Vettese says that the Indy’s real purpose is to leverage beer sales. “Molson’s interest is to put on a world-class event while reaching into the community in such a way that people will think positively of Molson and drink its products. That’s the overall rationale for having a race in your set of marketing tools. But Molson wants to do things on an image-building, community-minded level as opposed to just a public relations level.”

          And it wants to sell beer. So for the fifth year, Generator and Molson produced 180,000 special cases of Molson Canadian — 18 cans packaged in a racing-oriented carton. Inside, there was a pass to the Friday race, and the pass held a number through which holders registered for the chance to be one of 150 guests at a VIP barbecue on race day — on the Thunderdeck, an area at the end of the straightaway.

          “This promotion gives the beer-selling side and the Indy side a place to meet,” says Vettese. “It rewards loyal drinkers for staying with the brand and  gets other people to switch to Molson.”

          Molson markets 17 brands in BC, and Molson Canadian has been here since 1959. Since the inception of the race, however, the trademark has increased by 70%. But Scott Ellis, VP Corporate Affairs for Molson, says that the race is only part of the big picture.

          “Indy is a world-class event that happens at the height of the beer-drinking season, and a lot of time and effort goes into building the brand while building the race. All along, you’re obviously trying to make the linkage with consumers. But you can’t do that with one event. You have to do it every day — with professional sports and local baseball clubs and recreational hockey leagues. It’s those things combined with big events that make the difference. But Indy happened because our consumers told us that high-profile sports events were of high importance to them. Our job is to give consumers what they want.”