Best Buy Takes Flak In Canada Day Culture War

Best Buy (NYSE:BBY) found itself caught in a Canadian cultural crossfire last week in its efforts to avoid annoying some customers on Canada Day, the holiday marking the founding of the nation.

That day is July 1, and Best Buy printed up Canada Day sale advertising flyers in Ontario. But in Quebec, where the French-speaking majority has had a long-testy relationship with the rest of the country (and its own Quebec National Holiday on June 24), Best Buy printed Moving Day flyers. Moving Day, which also falls on July 1, is the day when residential leases are legally required to begin in Quebec, and it dates back to the days when Quebec was under French control.

Best Buy has been issuing the dueling July 1 flyers for five years, but this year some English-speaking commentators objected.

One, at an English-language TV station in Montreal, called it "nothing short of shameful" and added, "To have a big box corporation from the U.S. tell us that our national holiday takes a back seat to the annual ritual of address changing is an insult. Can you imagine if they did the same thing in America? And then tell us they regret the misunderstanding? No it's not a misunderstanding. We get it."

Best Buy, for its part, did its best to smooth over the situation. But in the midst of what some Canadian retailers see as an American invasion, with Target (NYSE:TGT) set to open 124 stores across the country in 2013 and Nordstrom (NYSE:JWN) set to expand there next year, the electronics chain is caught in the middle of two cultural fights: Quebec vs. Canada and Canada vs. the U.S.

Was there a way of navigating both those minefields successfully? Probably not. No matter what Best Buy did, some group was likely to be infuriated.

But despite its standard PR "sorry for the misunderstanding" apology, at least it's clear that Best Buy can count. Roughly 80 percent of Quebec's population uses French as its dominant language. If you have to choose sides in a culture war, you might as well go where the customers are.

For more:

- See this CTV Montreal story

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