Under the Influence

Live & Let Buy: Where You Live Dictates What You Purchase

The most interesting cultural differences aren’t country to country, they are province to province, state to state, and even city to city. This week, we explore how and why people living in different locations buy such vastly different products. British Columbia likes to show off luxury cars, Toronto likes big homes, and New York likes luxury watches. The most pampered pets live in Saskatchewan. Last year, the city that bought the most sex paraphernalia was Victoria, this year it’s a city out east.

The most interesting cultural differences aren't country to country, they are province to province, state to state, and even city to city. This week, we explore how and why people living in different locations buy such vastly different products. British Columbia likes to show off luxury cars, Toronto likes big homes, and New York likes luxury watches. The most pampered pets live in Saskatchewan. Last year, the city that bought the most sex paraphernalia was Victoria, this year it's a city out east. Join us to find out which one. Live & Let Buy: where you live dictates what you buy.

The film The Shawshank Redemption was originally titled Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption.


It was based on a novella written by Stephen King in 1982.

The king, Stephen King, one of the most prolific writers on the planet. (famousauthors.com)

At the time, he was trying to break out of the horror genre, and wrote the story as a dramatic period piece in a prison setting.

Director Frank Darabont loved Shawshank and wanted to turn it into a feature film.

Frank Darabont, then a newby director, wanted to film The Shawshank Redemption. (contactmusic.com)

But how he got the rights is an interesting story.

Stephen King has made a long-time standing offer to young filmmakers.

He calls it Dollar Babies. Essentially, King offers the rights to his short stories to students or aspiring directors for one dollar. It's his way of giving back.

That's how Darabont secured the rights to The Shawshank Redemption. He was a relatively new director who paid Stephen King a buck.

Darabont paid Stephen King one dollar for the rights to the Shawshank Redemption. (imdb.com)

The film he eventually directed starred Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins.

Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman were both unsure about working with a green director. (dailybeast.com)

Freeman was unsure about working with such an inexperienced director, and Tim Robbins agreed to do the picture on the stipulation that – if the director was green – then the cameraman had to be experienced.

Although the film was set in Maine, it was shot at the Ohio State Reformatory.

When the movie finally hit theatres in 1994, it was a complete flop.

It made less than a million dollars on opening weekend. Many critics blamed the title, saying it was odd and weird. Most moviegoers had no idea what the title meant.

And pronouncing the Shimshuck Reduction was a problem.

It wasn't a female-friendly movie either – there were only two female actors in the entire film, and they only spoke 23 words of dialogue.

The only two actresses in the film only speak 23 words total. (kensnydecast.com)

The running length was another issue – it clocked in at 142 minutes.

As a result, The Shawshank Redemption played to mostly empty theatres.

Then a strange thing happened. The Shawshank Redemption was nominated for seven Academy Awards.

The box office bomb surprises everyone and gets nominated for seven Oscars. (worldcinema.org)

But it was completely shut out on Oscar night.

Because it had been a box office dud, Ted Turner bought the rights to it very cheaply, and began running it on his TNT TV network over and over again for the next 20 years.

And it was through television that viewers completely changed their minds about The Shawshank Redemption.

People wouldn't buy a ticket to it in theatres, but couldn't get enough of it in their living rooms.

It was television that made a hit out of The Shawshank Redemption. (smh.com.au)

Do you consider The Shawshank Redemption your favourite movie of all time?

Probably not. But somebody does.

The Shawshank Redemption is Netflix's highest- rated film ever. It is so universally loved by viewers that it completely baffles Netflix, and throws their algorithms off.

The love for The Shawshank Redemption on Netflix is simply off the charts. (imgur.com)

Not only that, it has edged out The Godfather to become the #1 film on IMDB's list of the 250 Top Rated Movies Of All Time.

Compared to Shawshank, the Godfather sleeps with the fishes on IMDB. (imdb.com)

A disaster at the box office.

A historic runaway success on television.

Same movie. Same title.

The difference was this: Where the movie was shown influenced how the public reacted to it.

In the world of marketing, the question of "where" greatly influences buying decisions.

What people buy in one country, they won't buy in another.

But the more interesting buying differences aren't country to country - they are province-to-province, state-to-state, and even city-to-city.

What one city buys a lot of, a neighbouring city may not buy at all.

How one city displays status, may not even register in the next town over.

What we choose to drink changes completely province to province.

We even shop for different sexy items city to city.

It all comes down to one of the biggest rules in marketing:

Where you live dictates what you buy…

I grew up in Sudbury, Ontario, in the 60s and 70s.

Yup, that's me you see there. (delcampe.net)

One of the most popular drinks there, at the time, was a rye and Pepsi.

Yes barkeep, I said rye and Pepsi. (minhasdistillery.com)

When I moved to Toronto in 1978, I discovered that nobody here drank rye and Pepsi - they drank rye and Coke.

There was a reason why it was different in Sudbury: It was one of the few cities where Pepsi outsold Coke.

Where you live dictates what you buy.

And I don't just mean that Sudbury, Ontario, sells more snow shovels than Miami, Florida, it's much more interesting and surprising than that.

July in Sudbury. (cbc.ca)

According to Statistics Canada, beer is definitely the drink of choice in the great white north.

Over 50% of our national alcohol consumption is beer.

Yes, Canucks kinda like beer. (beertweetup.com)

But that preference for a brew differs depending on where you live.

Yukon and Northwest Territories buy the most beer per capita –– far above the Canadian average.

Guess which province buys the least amount of beer per capita?


Beer is finally coming to grocery stores in Ontario. (ctvnews.ca)

And even though the Caesar was invented in Alberta, beer is king there, too.

Hail Caesar, but Alberta hail beer. (homeandgarenblog.com)

But while beer is the most popular alcohol beverage in the country, its market share is falling to wine and liquor, both of which began to rise in 2004.

Quebec is far and away Canada's wine connoisseur – buying the most vino of any province.

British Columbia ranks 2nd, which probably makes sense due to B.C.'s excellent wine region.

B.C. stands for better Chardonnay. (thedrinkbusiness.com)

The province that buys the least amount of wine – that would be Saskatchewan.

When it comes to spirits, Northwest Territories purchases the most, Yukon comes in at #2, and Newfoundland and Labrador at #3 – where rum outsells second place rye whiskey by a rate of two to one.

While Quebec loves wine, it doesn't like liquor, spending the least amount annually on spirits. Yet, Quebec consumes the most litres of alcohol per person of legal drinking age.

Can we interest you in a little ice wine? (citynetmagazine)

The province with the lowest consumption of alcohol is Prince Edward Island. That's interesting, because PEI held on to Prohibition Laws until 1948 – 20 years after the rest of Canada lifted the ban. So it's quite possible history has had a lingering effect on the people of PEI.

Where you live dictates what you buy.

But get a load of this: A recent study revealed Canadians drink 50% more alcohol per year than the average world citizen.

Back off. It's a long winter.

You can freeze your grapes off in a Canadian winter. (niagarafalls.net)

In the United States, New Hampshire consumes the most beer. Followed by North Dakota and Montana.

The state that consumes the most spirits is – again - New Hampshire. Next comes Washington D.C. then Delaware.

Washington D.C. consumes the most wine. A very close second is Idaho. Bit of a dark horse there. And #3 coming around on the outside - is New Hampshire.

Their motto is beginning to make more sense to me now:

New Hampshire loves its hooch. (theoddyseyonline)

As you can see, choice is often based on social comparison.

As author Tom Vanderbilt notes in his superbly researched book on the subject of choice, titled, You May Also Like, what you choose is greatly influenced by what you see others doing.

Tom Vanderbilt's excellent new book explores the subject of choice - due on bookshelves in May. (amazon.com)

It's like a standing ovation at a play. Most of us will stand up and join the applause - whether we think the performance was that good or not.

This is especially true when it comes to conspicuous consumption - where you live and what you observe definitely determines what you like to show off.

When it comes to luxury cars, for example, British Columbia is the #1 market per capita in Canada, purchasing 42% above the Canadian average.

British Columbia drives the luxury car category. (designtrend.com)

Twice that of Ontario.

It seems residents of British Columbia are accustomed to dealing with a high cost of living. Many leverage the equity on their homes to help finance luxury car purchases.

One top luxury car dealer there says British Columbians have a taste for premium products, and have a willingness to stretch to accommodate those purchases.

Weather also influences car-buying decisions on the lower mainland, as there is less snow and salt, making it easier on luxury cars.

Interesting to compare that to New York. There, residents spend more on limos and taxis than any other city. And because there is no car culture there, the status symbol of choice… is luxury watches.

Everybody's got the time in New Yawk. (nytimes.com)

New York doesn't just buy a few more luxury watches, it buys 171% more luxury watches than the national average. No other American city comes close.

Even during the recent Great Recession, New Yorkers still bought 25X the number of luxury watches than the national average.

Los Angeles purchased the second most, followed by San Francisco.

What we do and what we say we do are often different things.

For example, many people say they watch foreign films and documentaries a lot. But Netflix will tell you that doesn't really happen.

Wonder if there's a documentary on the fact so few people watch documentaries. (avclub.com)

The same holds true with how cities express social standing. According to the New York Times, the Consumer Expenditure Survey shows that different cities express status in very different ways – even if they don't admit to it.

In New York, as we've just mentioned, one of the top status symbols is luxury watches.

In Boston, it's tuition to private schools.

In Dallas, it's home décor.

In San Francisco, it's club memberships.

And in Washington, surprisingly, it's encyclopedias and reference books.

In Washington, you flaunt your home library. (wordpress.com)

In Toronto, expensive homes are a contemporary status symbol. The city was recently named the world's fastest growing market for luxury home sales worth more than $3 million dollars – and was ahead of wealthier cities like New York, London and Paris.

This mansion from Toronto's bridle path was modelled after the Palace of Versailles. (CBC)

When it comes to cosmetics and perfume, Canadians spent $1.4 billion on prestige beauty products last year.

East coast women make up the biggest cosmetic purchasers. (wewomen.com)

Women in Atlantic Canada spent the most on cosmetics. Followed by Alberta and Ontario.

In the States, you might assume that New York and Los Angeles spend the most on cosmetics. They don't – not by a long shot.

It's Phoenix, Houston and Minneapolis that are far and away the biggest beauty spenders.

Boston and Baltimore prefer the natural look, spending the least on beauty products.


Feeling lucky, punk?

Lotteries are an interesting indicator of purchasing habits.

Lotteries are an interesting study in buying habits. (theglobeandmail.com)

In Canada, the province that buys the most lottery tickets is Quebec at $3.1 billion. Coming in second is Ontario at $2.3 billion.

In the U.S., Rhode Island spent the most lottery dollars per capita, at almost $800 per person per year.

Here's where differences are so interesting – South Dakota ranks #2 for most lottery dollars spent at $755 per person, yet North Dakota ranks the lowest, at a mere $36 dollars per person annually.

The two states are side-by-side, and you can drive from the centre of North Dakota to the centre of South Dakota in just 5 1/2 hours.

Yet the difference in purchasing behaviour couldn't be more extreme.

What you choose says a lot about you.

That's how Google decides which ads to send you.

Google sends you ads based on who it thinks you are - based largely on what you search. (straightforwardmedia.com)

It creates a profile based on what you search.

Did you know you can find out who Google thinks you are?

Just type this into your browser:


Up pops your Google profile, built from your past searches. This is who Google thinks you are.

Now, I bet when you do that, you won't agree with the "list of interests." It won't line up with your idea of yourself.

My list says I like books, humour and rock music. Which is true. It also says I like hair products.

Not sure about that. Have you seen my picture?

But the big question is – which is true? The sense of yourself that you aspire to, or the one based on the choices you actually make?

As writer Tom Vanderbilt says, in an age of individualism, many of us have convinced ourselves that we are complex creatures marching to our own drummers.

But in reality, there is a tendency to cluster.

We aren't so much rare birds, but rather, birds of a feather.

How much money we spend on our pets depends on where you live.

According to Amazon.ca, the most pampered pets in Canada live in Saskatchewan.

Regina spent the most on their dogs. Saskatoon came in at #2, Burnaby at #3.

It's a dog's life in Regina. (youtube.com)

Kitchener spends the most on cats.

But, it's a dog's life. Canadians spend way more money on dogs than on cats.

And they spare no expense.

Items include high end bedding with memory foam.

Let sleeping dogs lie on memory foam. (washabledogbed.net)

There's doggie hiking boots.

Bow wow booties. (topdogrip.com)

Doggie jackets and sweaters.

What are you looking' at? (retrorenovation)

Jewelled collars.




Halloween costumes.

Halloweener dog. (awesomeinventions.com)

And even hydrotherapy. Over 80 dogs per month visit the Waterpaws Canine Aquatic Centre in Saskatoon. Some visit more than once a week.

Sorry, I can't sniff your butt today, I have hydrotherapy class in 20 minutes. (mk0hydropool.co.uk)

If you're an American pooch, it pays to live in sunny Phoenix, Arizona, where owners spend way more per person on their pets than any other American city. Coming in second in the pet-loving derby is Cleveland, Ohio.

When it comes to books, where you live has a big influence on your purchasing behaviour.

Even though Toronto is the country's publishing centre, Vancouver is the #1 book-buying city.

Toronto prints them, Vancouver reads 'em. (geekylibrary.com)

Attention authors: Vancouver is #1 in more than 50% of all categories – including business books, and travel, self-help and health books. Tuck that away in your book marketing back pocket.

Calgary is #2 on the list of top book buyers. Saskatoon is #3. Toronto elbowed in at #7.

Saskatoon also led the country – for the third year in a row – in purchasing the most novels written by Canadian authors.

The city buying the most e-books… Calgary. Followed by Regina and good old Saskatoon.

In the U.S., Seattle was the top book-buying city, at a whopping 68% above the national average. Followed by San Francisco, then Philadelphia.

Books are finger lickin' good in Seattle. (litreactor.com)

The city that buys the least amount of books is Miami.

The next city that buys the least amount of books happens to be the publishing capital of America - New York City.

Another stereotype overturned – where you live dictates what you buy.

New York prints 'em, but doesn't read 'em. (seniorennet.com)

The New York Times also quoted some other interesting city stats.

Atlanta, for example, spends 230% above the national average when it comes to motorcycles, yet spends 45% below average on men's underwear.

Boston spends a staggering 330% more than the national average on alimony.

Detroit spends the most per capita on dating services, and GPS systems.

Cleveland spends the most on wigs.

Washington spends 110% more per capita on men's suits, but 100% below the norm on non-alcoholic beer.

Meanwhile Miami spends 50% below the norm when it comes to women's underwear.

When Ashley-Madison's website was hacked recently, the Toronto Star reported that seven years worth of billings had been exposed, including partial credit card numbers, transaction amounts and the street addresses of members.

Life is short. Get caught having an affair. (wtvr.com)

The Canadian city with the most cheaters was Toronto The Good. Toronto, by the way, ranked 4th on that list internationally.

If only the Leafs could do that well.

The #2 Canadian city, according to leaked Ashley-Madison information, is Lloydminster, Alberta, population 24,000.

Lloydminster is a hotbed of naughtiness. (epodunk.com)

Number three on the naughty list was Milton, Ontario. Followed by Oakville, Ontario. Then the royal city of Guelph.

I thought it was also interesting to see which Canadian cities spent the least with Ashley-Madison.

Number one was Selkirk, Manitoba. The catfish capital of the world.

In Selkirk, they don't fish for dates. (wikipedia.org)

Number Two was Moncton, New Brunswick, where the crossword puzzle was invented in 1926.

And the number three city was downtown Montreal.

Can you guess the top cheating city in the U.S.?

Yup, the Big Apple.

Followed by Houston, Los Angeles and Chicago.

The cities with the least amount of Ashley-Madison hijinks were Atlanta, Philadelphia and, get a load of this… Las Vegas.

Sin City doesn't need any help from Ashley-Madison. (linkedin.com)

When it comes to kama sutra show & tell, it's interesting to note Canada's largest cities barely make the list.

It's the rural communities that are having all the fun.

According to the online sex toy store Pink Cherry, the Canadian city that buys the most sex toys is… Kentville, Nova Scotia. Population 6,000.


Kentville took the crown – or the cuffs – from last year's #1 city, Victoria. B.C. Which is interesting, because Victoria has one of the highest elderly populations in Canada.

Now when I look at a stat like that from a marketing perspective, I have to say… I have no idea what's going on there.

Number two on the sexy list was Colwood, B.C., followed by Fort McMurray.

Toronto and Montreal didn't even crack the top 100.

By the way, believe it or not, weather matters when it comes to sex toy purchases.

Most are sold… in the winter. Makes sense, Canadians can only do so many crossword puzzles during those long snowy months.

Yep, most sex toys are sold in the winter north of the 49th. (wordpress.com)

Now, when it comes to sales of BDSM, or Bondage, Discipline, Submission and Masochism products, online sex store Pink Cherry says the number one city in Canada is…

Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia. With a population just 50 shades short of 1,000 people.

Wow. So surprising. I have an idea. Let's call someone in Mahone Bay and ask them if it's true.

We have a Nova Scotia phone book here, so I'll just pick a number randomly...

Here we go. Let's see. Area code 902…

This should be interesting.

K, It's ringing.

Here we go. I'll just introduce myself, tell them that Mahone Bay ranks #1 in BDSM sales, and see what they say.

While we're waiting, the #2 city in Canada for BDSM sales was Fairview, Alberta.

Number three was 100 Mile House in British Columbia.

Still ringing.

By the way, Fort McMurray was in the top ten of both lists – sex toys and BDSM.

Fort McMurray loves their power tools. (epodunk.com)

No one's answering.

Probably right.

Where you live determines what you buy.


Every town, every city, every province and every state has a culture.

And that culture has a shared shorthand.

As the New York Times said, just by virtue of living in a particular city, you tend to spend more or less on certain conspicuous items.

New York likes to show status with watches, San Francisco chooses country club memberships, Vancouver prefers luxury cars, and in Toronto status is often expressed with expensive homes.

Every smart marketer knows there is no "national market" for a product. Instead, there are numerous, nuanced markets.

And you can't assume anything, because there are many surprises to be discovered, and long-held stereotypes are often overturned:

The publishing centres don't buy the most books.

Los Angeles doesn't buy the most cosmetics.

Ontario doesn't buy the most beer.

And Nova Scotia is the sexiest place in Canada.

It all goes to prove there is a secret language going on in all our towns.

And what people purchase marketers can't judge, they can only try to understand.

It's live and let buy…

…when you're under the influence.

This weekend, tune into Rewind for Advertising: From Luxo Hairgroom to Lucky Strike.

Advertising is so much a part of our lives now- slapped on every surface and as background to every experience- that many of us have learned to tune it out. But there have always been people who worry about the insidious power of ads to shape and influence the unsuspecting public- whether it's through ear worms that lodge themselves in your brain, subliminal ads that find sex in every ice cube or a robot like response that urges you to buy buy buy. On this edition of Rewind, a look at the philosophy of advertising circa the 1950s and 60s.

Rewind with Michael Enright airs Thursdays at 2:05 and is repeated Sunday at 8:05 on CBC Radio One and Sirius XM.