GWG's Approach to Marketing to French-Canadians
by Lucie Bettez
GWG began to market its products to French-Canadians in the 1960s as part of its efforts to broaden distribution throughout Canada. The company began to provide product descriptions in both English and French in its catalogues after 1965.
GWG jeans were a staple to a whole generation of French-Canadians in the 1970s and 1980s. They were inexpensive and people loved the look and feel of pre-washed jeans. Scrubbies was a very popular brand. Don Freeland, who developed Scrubbies for GWG, remembers Eaton's Montreal store ordering 900 pairs: "It was unpacked on a Friday. It hit the shelves. By Saturday, there wasn't one pair left. Never happened before in their history. French kids will die for fashion."
The company also introduced a few French-sounding brands: Cachet Cadet (1979), Femme Fit (1980), Poupounette (1980), and Pionnier (1980).
GWG primarily used two advertising strategies. The first relied on the newspaper or flyer advertising of large department stores such as Woolworths, Zellers, The Bay, and Bonimart. Stores usually advertised GWG products during the April spring sales, the September back-to-school period, and the December holiday season. GWG had no control over which products were advertised, when, or for what price. The stores determined the products to be put on sale and the advertising layout. The oldest French language newspaper ads found featuring GWG products date from 1976.
The second strategy involved advertisements made especially for GWG in magazines, and on radio and television. GWG advertised on transit posters in English, however no examples of French posters were located. GWG advertisements in French media were essentially the same as those produced for English media—both targeted specific audiences. GWG adapted its message so people could identify themselves with those wearing the clothing in the ads.
GWG advertised extensively in English language newspapers and magazines until the 1970s. Magazines had proven to be a good marketing strategy, because they are often kept for future reference, lent to others, or found in practioners' offices, which give ads a long period of visibility. Nevertheless, after poring over hundreds of pages of women's and men's magazines, only four ads were found in Châtelaine, the only fashion magazine widely available to Quebec women until the 1980s; one of these ads was from a retailer. GWG advertised men's Scrubbies jeans in Châtelaine, recognizing that women often shopped for their husbands and sons. The fact that no GWG ads were found in men's magazines from the 1980s, when men's awareness of fashion was becoming more important, points to GWG's apparent disconnect with the new generation of buyers.
The other three French ads in Châtelaine addressed girls and women of all ages. An April 1980 ad targeted girls from 7 to 12 years old, a September 1980 ad targeted teenage girls from 13 to 16, and an April 1981 ad women. The first two include a brief mention of GWG's other items of clothing. The ad for Va-et-Vient (Femme Fit) pants is interesting because it features a drawing, rather than a photograph, of two women in their late twenties or early thirties. This ad emphasizes the pants' flexibility and fashionable look and really popped out because drawings were not usually used in advertisements in women's magazines of the period. GWG was very well-positioned in the market at the time, because it advertised a variety of products for all ages.
GWG used the same advertising agency for its English and French language publicity. GWG ran the first national television campaign for jeans in 1972. With these television ads, GWG positioned itself as an important player in the world of jeans. The advertisements were simply translated from English to French in Montreal, and francophone actors went to Toronto to tape the French version, whether for television or radio commercials. Naturally, these versions were adapted to suit the French-Canadian vernacular.
Paul de Grandmont translated and adapted the 1973 French Scrubbies ad, which is believed to be the first GWG ad created in French. The ad was produced by Josée Larivière for Baker Lovick, Montreal. Set to different tunes for different radio stations, it tells the sad story of a man unable to see his sweetheart because he has to spend time scrubbing his new jeans so they would have a worn look. He promises that next time he will buy GWG Scrubbies so that he will not have to miss another date with her. GWG produced a version sung by a country music singer for its rural customers, and another featuring boogie music. One features Gilles Girard, lead singer of Les Classels, a very popular group at the time.
Set to different musical styles, the ads say that people should buy pre-washed Scrubbies and spend their time making music or with their girlfriends rather than scrubbing jeans.
Get the Flash Player to see this player.
Set to country music, the ad says that you don't have to wash or scrub them, they already have a worn out look; just wear your GWG jeans, go out and have fun. (1:02)
Get the Flash Player to see this player.
Set to the boogie-woogie musical style, the ad says that wearing jeans is cool all right, but you needn't wash and scrub them several times a week. (1:12)
Get the Flash Player to see this player.
Set to the doo-wop musical style, the ad says that people should buy prewashed Scrubbies and spend their time with their girlfriends rather than scrubbing jeans. (1:02)
The most important selling point in the radio ads was that GWG was the first to offer pre-washed jeans. As a result, Scrubbies became the simple alternative to uncomfortably stiff new jeans. GWG also sold bell-bottom jeans for men and women, jackets, corduroys and dress overalls. Yet, except in the magazine ads, GWG did not advertise these articles of clothing. Their radio and television ads mainly focused on blue jeans.
The 1973 advertising campaign proved very successful. Young people loved the look of worn jeans and the affordable price. GWG offered one new product at a time, as needs and tastes changed, and young people had more disposable income.
Most of the surviving French language GWG advertising originated in the early 1980s. Jocelyne Benoît translated and adapted the English version for Baker Lovick, Montreal which produced two radio ads for Odyssey jeans—brand name filed in 1982 and abandoned in 1986—which were very different in style from the earlier ads in that they did not use celebrity endorsement.
A 1980 TV ad presented a procession of young people in Bum Jeans. Even though we can see their torsos in some shots, we never see the front of their bodies or their faces. Instead, the camera focuses on their pant legs and derrieres. The movement of the "W" in GWG underlines the focus on the bum. This advertisement caused some controversy with English Canadians at the time because of the choice of music.
Get the Flash Player to see this video.
1980 advertisement for Bum Jeans produced by Baker Lovick for GWG (0:33) A television advertisement featuring various people walking or moving from behind, focused on their bottoms to show how well they fit.
Once again, GWG emphasized its blue jeans but it included men, women and, in one shot, a small boy. The French version of the ad was probably taped with English-speaking walk-on actors. Because no one talks, the producers only needed to print French words at the end. The ad was well-conceived with French and English in mind, because its spirit and message work in both languages.
A 1984 GWG television ad can be found in the Centre d'Archives Publicitaires in Montreal, a private fonds housed within the Cinémathèque Québécoise, an institution that preserves and promotes national and international films and television heritage. The ad features rising stars from Quebec, actors Serge Dupire—the lead in the 1985 movie Le Matou, adapted from a successful Quebec novel—and Marina Orsini, who started her career as a model and is now a respected actress. The ad may have been an adaptation of an English version; the use of recognizable young Quebec actors would have been more appealing to French-Canadians.
For this ad, GWG drew upon the youth and the sexiness of the actors but reinstated a simplicity of production that had not been used since the 1973 radio ads. In 1984, there was an explosion of designer jean brands coming onto the market. This ad played on the consumerist confusion that resulted, and the amount of time wasted in choosing the right pair of jeans. Thus, GWG positioned itself as the simple choice for people with simple tastes who had no time to waste shopping for jeans.
GWG's 1980-1981 advertisements were well-conceived since they targeted a wide range of ages, economic status and interests. The 1984 TV ad was the last GWG French-language ad found during this research. GWG launched a major advertising campaign for its 75th anniversary in 1986, but no examples of French language ads were found. In a May 24, 2002 Globe & Mail article, Levi Strauss's then director of marketing said that GWG had not advertised for years; perhaps she meant since the late 1980s?
GWG's Scrubbies brand became very popular with French-Canadians in the mid-1970s. In the 1980s, when the number of jeans brands grew, GWG promoted its jeans as the simple choice. GWG's French language advertising crested in the 1970s and early 1980s. Although GWG advertised on radio, television and in magazines, its visibility was modest. Most advertisements located were a direct translation of English versions. GWG did not specifically target a French-Canadian sensitivity, but rather addressed their marketing to specific genders and age groups, and a wide range of interests.