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You did it! You nailed that big meeting, and your client has asked you to handle their Canadian marketing campaign. No big deal, right? 

The good news: International agencies do amazing work for Canadian clients all the time, and vice versa.

The bad news: If you don’t know about the nuances in Canadian spelling, website standards, and advertising law, you could make things a LOT harder for yourself (and your client).

I’ve worked with a few global companies and ad agencies to improve their Canadian marketing game, and the same things seem to come up over and over. What is the difference between Canadian and American spelling? Do I need to translate all my Canadian web content into French? Can you explain Canadian email marketing laws to me?

I got you. Here are a few of the things you need to know before taking on a Canadian client.

1) Canadian Spelling

Have you noticed that “English – Canada” is a language option in most applications?

While Canadian and American English are essentially the same, some words are spelled differently in Canada than they are in the US. Most of the time, Canadian spelling is the same as British spelling. For example:

Favorite (US) –> Favourite (Canada & UK)
Center (US) –> Centre (Canada & UK)
Check (US) –> Cheque (Canada & UK)

However, there are some cases where Canadian spelling departs from British spelling. The biggest example of this is words with a Z in the suffix, such as those which end in “-ize” or “-ization.” While these are spelled with an “S” in the UK, they remain with a “Z” in both Canada and the United States. For example:

Civilisation (UK) –> Civilization (Canada & USA)
Colonise (UK) –> Colonize (Canada & USA)
Criticise (UK) –> Criticize (Canada & USA)

Don’t worry, you don’t have to memorize this (though it would be handy to familiarize yourself with this list of common words). Just make a habit or running your work through a Canadian spell-checker before sending it to a client.

To ensure you have the right spelling, I recommend putting your content through three tests before sending to a client:

  1. Run it through Grammarly  (best. app. ever.) with the language set to UK English. That will catch most of it, but since they don’t have a “Canadian” setting…
  2. Run it through Microsoft Word or another word processing software which can be set to English-Canada
  3. Get it proofread by a real human who knows what they are doing in that field and/or locality

2) Does everything need to be in French, too?

If you are targeting Quebec, the answer is almost always yes. Many Quebecers speak only French, so you’ll need to translate your copy and content into French for this region.

If you are targeting people outside of Quebec, it gets a little fuzzier. While there are French populations across Canada (particularly in northern Ontario, New Brunswick, and Manitoba), they tend to be smaller clusters and may or may not justify the extra expense of translation for your client.

Make sure you’re clear on the translation needs before taking on any project, and don’t overlook it with regards to SEO, Adwords and any targeted digital spend. Make sure you account for the cost of translation when quoting your Canadian client for services, as well as the time it will take to upload and optimize the French-language content.

Another quick note: If you are providing creative services for consumer packaged goods, remember that all labels need to be bilingual (with the exception of local products). They also need to use the metric system for all measurements, which brings me to my next point…

3) Other Canadian nuances

Like most countries, Canada uses the metric system of measurement. That means you should use kilometers (km) instead of miles, centimeters instead of inches, and so on. Because of Canada’s proximity to the US, however, imperial is commonly used to describe height and weight.

The Canadian dollar is also different than the US dollar, so be sure to clarify which currency you are billing in. Good communication on this is vital, especially since the exchange rate tends to fluctuate. Billing a Canadian client in CAD will make them very happy, but you are always taking a gamble when your paycheck comes in a weaker currency than your own bills.

Universal health care affects many businesses who market to health professionals or who have consumer health products. Your winning content campaign targeting hospitals in the States could completely flop in the Canadian healthcare industry, whose expenses are wrapped tightly in red tape, legislation, and government budgets. Talk to your client about which industries they target and focus on those, rather than just reworking the spelling of your content and spitting it out for a Canadian audience.

Canada also has provinces and territories instead of “states.”  There are only 13 (10 provinces, 3 territories), and most of them are pretty big. While this might not affect an e-commerce business (unless you’re on the inventory/shipping side), brick-and-mortar clients will expect you to know what this map looks like:


They’ll also want you to know about this…

3) Canadian Spam & Website Usability Legislation

Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) requires that every piece of “digital commercial correspondence” (aka e-mail marketing) include:

  • Express or implied consent to receive correspondence
  • Clear identification of who is sending the email
  • An unsubscribe mechanism.

The good news is that most e-mail automation tools such as Constant Contact, MailChimp, Infusionsoft, ConvertKit (and the list goes on…) include these elements already. But if your client wants to use a sketchy email list or an unclear template, steer them away from dancing near this flame.

Organizations with 50+ employees who operate in the province of Ontario are also required to follow the AODA guidelines for website accessibility. These guidelines require you to take certain steps to make sure people with disabilities can use your website. Although the guidelines are somewhat unclear, the main requirements for an AODA compliant website are:

  • Having alt tags on everything. Chances are you’re probably already doing this for SEO, but it is also necessary for an accessible website to have text available describing images and other media. That includes buttons!
  • Close captioning and/or transcripts for video content
  • Clear labeling on buttons, prompts, and content (not only distinguished by colour)
  • Website which can be navigated using a keyboard
  • Website text which is understandable being read top to bottom, left to right
  • Clear labeling on form fields
  • Captchas which are usable by the visually impaired

Although the government hasn’t published the requirements in an easy-to-navigate format yet, the awesome folks at EnvisionUp wrote a great article highlighting the basics. You can also pop your URL into AChecker for an automatic reading of your site’s accessibility.

Know Your Audience

It goes without saying: If you have a Canadian staff member (or a remote Canadian marketing expert *shameless plug*) you will be better able to navigate Canadian language, legislation, and culture.

From responding to social media inquiries in French to yielding questions about currency, keeping someone up North on your side can be a big benefit when taking on Canadian clients. At the very least, make sure you find a resource within the client’s team who can speak for the business’ interests in Canada.

Need help figuring out some Canadian client nuances? I’m here for you. Just send me what you’re struggling with in the contact form below and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.