In keeping with a few best practices from advertising and behaviourism I created a panel of experts to help with some research. The panel consisted of eight different Joe Tremblays (out of some 100 people I found who also had the same name) from eight different regions of Quebec.

There is no scientific reasoning behind the Joe Tremblay Club. It’s pure intuition. I put the club together to try and get closer to a real reference group while having a little fun with Quebec family names.

In advertising you always go right to the feedback to find the answers in people’s comments. Feedback is the ultimate goal of any type of communications, whether it be a speech, a commercial, a book, an editorial or a sermon.

My Tremblay friends shared more than just words and ideas with me. Their insight was full of local flavours I might never have known about. They also extended their friendship and encouraged me when the going got tough. This project would never have come together if it wasn’t for them.

And as I listened to the tapes I realized that even though they aren’t driven by the same things, they all share the same Roots. From the skilled professional to the manual labourer, and from the youngest to the oldest, they’re all cut from the same cloth.

For the purposes of the 36 Heartstrings theory, there is only one Joe Tremblay. He’s the blended hero who speaks his mind throughout the following chapters, contradicting himself often, but really staying true to himself in the process.

I owe Joe Tremblay a lot and wish to express my gratitude for the many rewarding hours I spent with him and his family in the summers of 1975 and 1976.

In the beginning…The idea for Heartstrings came to me in Toronto in October 1962.

My goal was to show an audience of English-speaking advertisers that campaigns created in Quebec were much more effective than the ones they put together and translated into Toronto French.

I gave a conference I called “The six chords to strike with French Canadian consumers.” It was published in a Toronto paper the next day as “The six chores of the French Canadians.”

Instead of discouraging me, this typical example of Toronto humour convinced me I was on to something big. It seemed the direct no-nonsense six chords approach couldn’t be ignored. And on top of that, it was ruffling the feathers of the biggest skeptics in the business. I promised myself I would hone this weapon of mass consumption as soon as I could.

But things don’t always work out the way we plan. I was only able to go back to work on the six chords 10 years later, in 1972, while on a trip through the Amazon. I ended up staying there much longer than I wanted due to circumstances beyond my control.

My home sickness got me thinking about Quebec and every Quebecer’s Roots. I suddenly felt the need to go over the facts again.

After hitting a home run in Toronto with the classic cross-cradle-plow analogy, I decided to briefly describe the 6 strongest Roots that bind all Quebecers together in simple terms and included just a few examples of the collective behaviours that result.

The idea of listing Quebec consumer behaviours and presenting them in a diagram had never crossed my mind before I ended up in Brazil. But as we all know, distance gives us perspective.

I got right down to business, listing qualities in one column and flaws in another. I drafted a grid in order to illustrate the concept. I was basically drawing a praxeological profile.

I kept thinking about what we at BCP refer to as the Languirand grid, a framework that includes a set that helps define or determine the elements that make up the set, as well as clarify the relationships between each element in the set.

As soon as I made it back home I had a poster of “The 36 Heartstrings of Quebecers” made and sent out copies to universities and CEGEPs in order to get some feedback. When he wasn’t on strike, my mailman was able to bring me a ton of letters. In one of them I was called a makeshift ethnologist and in another I was labelled a small-time thinker. But overall the feedback I got was good.

I also gave a few lectures to introduce my theory to the highest level of thinkers at the Université du Québec à Montréal and the French Canadian studies department at McGill where Professor Yvan Lamonde let me tweak my hypothesis after making a few cutting remarks. An adman often thinks of feedback as a fatherly reprimand.

Readers will notice the word feedback comes up often in this book. It’s a term we use a lot in the communications business that refers to reactions by the public expressing their response – either good or bad – to a decision, an action or an event they’ve been exposed to. These reactions then drive the authors of the decisions, actions or events to respond as well, taking into account – or not – the public’s comments. So basically, feedback is a somewhat abstract back-and-forth dialogue resulting from gestures, words or actions that deliberately tug at the Heartstrings of the public. (Professor Jean-Paul Quinty has identified three categories of feedback: available, delivered and returned.)

Because I decided to write this book about everyone, I had to get everyone involved in writing it. How else could I possibly claim to have boiled down the behaviours of six million consumers to such a simple concept? I couldn’t…unless I had somehow unexpectedly stumbled on the philosopher’s stone of communications!

The simple concept I’ve developed is presented in a numbered, visual and mnemonic diagram that is hopefully more practical than abstract. The grid I designed is in no way meant to be a scientific or theoretical tool since I used an intuitive and empirical approach throughout this entire process.

During my research I relied, to a certain extent, on participant observation, to borrow the term explained by Professor John V. Petrof in Consumer Habits and Marketing. “When using this method, researchers live with the people whose culture they are studying. They try to think like them, see things through their eyes and understand life the way they do. What this approach lacks in methodological thoroughness it makes up for in spades in the quality of the data gathered.”

On the topic of observation Carl Jung wrote, “I don’t require observations to be purely objective because such observations simply do not exist. Instead I settle for observations that are not too subjective.” As entomologist Auguste Favre said, “I observe my subjects, I do not create them.” Or Montaigne, “I don’t make suggestions or dictate. I observe.”

In this book I code mostly secular values and standards that impact how people think and act so that Quebecers can identify with the Heartstrings I’ve outlined (whether or not that’s a good thing or a bad thing).

I’ve tried to organize the Heartstrings into sets of logical ideas and attitudes that all Quebecers share and that create some sort of social configuration.

But please don’t worry. My approach has been tested, as we often say in the advertising business, through hundreds of observations that have been documented in little black notebooks in a monk-like fashion reminiscent of Heartstring No. 20 (Mysticism).

Professor Bruce Mallen had to complete an astonishing 53 comparative studies of the Quebec market to identify six Heartstrings (brand loyalty, hedonism, conservatism, sensuality, price obliviousness and heritage) in his book French Canadian Consumer Behaviour. As a structured researcher, Mallen decided to stop further analysing his results for fear of getting to the point when intuition might have led him to follow his gut feeling and discover the underlying paradox that is the Quebec consumer base.

Protected by a metaphorical citadel, Great Wall of China and Kremlin, Quebec is still one of the most interesting communications laboratories in the world. And it’s in this same lab that the 36 Heartstrings theory was tested through ad campaigns by way of thousands of television and radio commercials and newspaper ads. After all, who am I to underestimate a process that has proven so successful!

But I didn’t want to rely solely on ad campaigns developed by the agency where I worked (and boost everyone’s ego there in the process). That’s why I started collecting Page 3 headlines in 1974.

It didn’t take me long to notice that major headlines in French Canadian papers, and print ads, too, were already tugging at our Heartstrings. The daily news mirrors our image. Just compare cover stories in La Presse and The Montreal Star and you’ll see exactly what I mean.

This made me think about updating the Heartstrings by putting them in present and future contexts.

I also looked at specialized magazines targeting Quebec consumers. I found that most of these publications use Heartstrings lingo right in their titles to attract readers: Le Bulletin des Agriculteurs (The Farmers’ Newsletter), Le Bricoleur (The Handyman), Échos Vedettes (Celebrity News), Elle et Lui (Her and Him), Madame au Foyer (Lady of the House), Québec Nature, Québec Chasse et Pêche (Quebec Hunting and Fishing), Revue des Spectacles (Show Reviews) and En voyage (Travel).

The Quiet Revolution generated reams of psycho-sociological literature in Quebec, more than 300 titles which are no longer catalogued as Canadiana but rather as Laurentiana, including the infamous Les insolences du Frère Untel (The Insolence of Brother Smith). This book by Jean-Paul Desbiens created a lot of controversy at the time and was the most influential work published in Quebec since Le Catéchisme en images (The Illustrated Catechism).

After studying a vast inventory of similar publications I realized that, like our newspapers, they all refer to Heartstrings terms in one way or another. I will refer to specific titles when the time is right. I will also place them in my diagram to give the Heartstrings a more tried-tested-and-true feel or to rectify any slight oversight that could be misconstrued as an old, innate, unconscious or preconscious mental structure.

I’m in no way claiming I’ve been able to outline a global sociology of Quebec. Based on Fernand Dumont’s own admission, no one, not even all of Quebec’s sociologists put together, has been able to manage this feat since Léon Gérin, Quebec’s first sociologist. And considering all the quality data these social scientists have gathered over the years, it’s really surprising they haven’t done more.

Benjamin Sulte thinks he has us all figured out: “[French Canadians] are a people who seem to share one heart and one mind.” Really?! Well if that’s true, then the one heart and the one mind harbour complex feelings and ideas, contradictions, opposing opinions and changes of heart. Early on in my research I realized that completing this project was going to be like strolling through a forest littered with bear traps.

There are many social-character studies of Quebecers out there. Just think of the works by Everett Hugues, Wilfrid Bovey and Léon Gérin, for example. Their findings all merge onto the same well-known paths that boil down to French regime/English regime nationalism or habitant-religion-elite or even cross-cradle-plow. But I won’t be going anywhere near these accepted concepts since I have no formal training in this field. I prefer to take my risks on the unbeaten path.

I feel like American motorcycle daredevil Evil Knievel right before he jumped over 33 buses. It’s the first time an adman attempts to analyse a group of human beings based on their consumer habits, as well as reactions and counterreactions to the signals given off by the objects (and ideas) they buy and consume on a daily basis in a culture defined by consumption.

Lucky for me, Yvan Lamonde has my back: “Here [in Quebec] the longstanding ideal of nationality is defined by the recent concepts of consumerism and advertising. Nationality is no longer regimented by introversion, territory, language, ideology or religion. Today’s incarnation of the idea is all about being in your face and getting your hands on as much stuff as you can.”

Now, you may be wondering what advertising has to do with behaviourism. You may be asking yourself, “Who does this guy think he is anyway? La Bruyère? Ernest Ditcher?” Consider these words by John V. Petrof: “The key to success (in advertising), is trying to meet the exact needs of consumers. Attempting to please consumers without knowing what drives them (their heartstrings) is like aiming at a target with your eyes closed.”

But even an adman does not discuss ethos without doing some research first.

So like the milkman’s horse that eventually learns the stops on its run, the adman, almost in spite of himself (and a few years in the business), can almost instinctively figure out what will or will not work. He has to perform the dangerous task of generalizing standards and values. Exceptions have never taught him anything so he just ignores them. To paraphrase Lawrence Durell, advertising, like politics, is an art that deals in averages.

Could ad campaigns that don’t take consumer behaviour into account and are purely informative even work? And don’t all messages need to include some emotional components to be successful? It sure seems like a winning combination if you look at propaganda! What is the shortest distance between two emotional beings? Wouldn’t it be shared emotions that have evolved into habits?

Before we dive in and discuss the 6 Vital Roots and 36 Heartstrings of Quebecers we’re going to take a closer look (in the Foreword) at the consumerism-behaviour link and put it into context by broadly defining Homo Consumens Quebecensis.

© 2022 – English translation and website by Lawrence Creaghan. Published online with the permission of Guérin Éditeur Ltée and the Fondation Jacques-Bouchard.