STANDING PAT IN QUEBEC; CLOSE VOTE MEANS MARKETERS LIKELY TO SHY FROM POLITICS

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MONTREAL-It's business as usual here in the wake of last week's vote that came within a whisker of splitting Quebec from the rest of Canada.

Canada's leaders must find a solution to the problems that divide the majority French-speaking province from the rest of the country "so that political stability can once again become a way of life," said John Parisella, VP in charge of development for BCP Strategy Creativity, which handled advertising for the pro-union side in the referendum.

The two sides spent $3 million combined on outdoor, transit, TV and print ads prior to the Oct. 30 vote. An unprecedented 94% of the electorate cast ballots, deciding to remain part of Canada by a 50.5% to 49.5% vote.

The day after the election, Premier Jacques Parizeau, leader of the separatist Parti Quebecois, resigned amid controversy about his blaming "money and the ethnic vote" for the loss.

Mr. Parisella, who was chief of staff to former Premier Robert Bourassa, said advertisers trying to reach the Quebecois would have had a real challenge if the pro-independence side had won.

"If it had gone just a few points the other way, it would have created a whole other political and social context in Quebec, and that would have led to a different approach to advertising," he said.

But since the outcome favored unity, Mr. Parisella-who often advises clients on strategy relating to government-thinks the agencies and marketers doing business in Quebec "will steer clear of politics .*.*. Politics is very dangerous in advertising, especially with a population so split. It's just too easy to offend people."

Even BCP, which Mr. Parisella said has had some campaigns over the years that "piggy-backed on Quebec nationalism," is avoiding politics this time around.

"Too tricky," he said. "Companies that will accentuate the divisions in Quebec will not be well seen. Even companies that try to do something to reconcile the two sides will be viewed as making a political statement, and people won't like that, either."

The vote will prompt "no changes at all" in the marketing strategy of Alcan Aluminum, Canada's largest industrial enterprise and a leading producer of aluminum, said Metal Marketing Manager Jean Raymond Michel.

Mr. Michel did say that his U.S. sales office had received some inquiries from customers. "They hadn't heard much about this" until the week before the vote, he said, adding he had to explain the situation because "they really didn't know what was happening."

The story was the same at Bombardier, another Montreal-based multinational. The company markets snowmobiles, motorized self-propelled water-skis and other popular recreational vehicles.

"Business as usual" came unprompted from a Bombardier spokeswoman for the company's Motorized Consumer Products group. "No is no. Even if it was close, the vote was clear."

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