The history of eastern North American colonization can be primarily seen through the prism of two major powers arm-wrestling for control. France and England were notorious rivals across the seven seas but nowhere was the confrontation more pitched than in North America, where the two powers jostled for control of a continent. While England clearly finally prevailed, there is one major exception in the Canadian province of Quebec. This virtual nation onto itself is a place where its more than eight million citizens primarily treasure French as their primary language and present email marketers with not only linguistic translation challenges but surprising prohibitions on the most basic online consumer strategy: Contests!

A Montreal restaurant was fined for using “pasta” on its menu

Were it not for the outcome of relatively minor battles such as Quebec’s Plains of Abraham, the history of this continent would be quite different with far greater swaths of it being predominantly French-speaking. While areas such as Louisiana have retained much of their Francophone identity, it is always within the framework of an English-speaking nation. Not so in Quebec where the French identity has turned out to be predominant to the point where the linguistic restrictions on the public use of other languages has become among the most repressive in the world, and where a “language police” unimaginable in any other developed country is allowed to run rampant. The recent flurry of media attention surrounding “Pastagate” amply demonstrates the pervasiveness of this provincial linguistic enforcement: A Montreal Italian restaurant was fined because, among other ghastly transgressions, they used the terms pasta, antipasto, and calamari instead of their French translations.

Offering Quebecers a contest entry could land you in legal trouble

While email marketers can easily navigate the treacherous shoals of the Office québécois de la langue française by simply offering Canadian customers the choice to receive their missives in English or French, there are various other potential minefields awaiting the unwary. One of the most common email marketing strategies is to offer some form of contest, sweepstakes or drawing, yet any online brand located anywhere which offers Quebec residents the opportunity to enter such a process could be facing severe legal retribution.

Get ready to deposit 10% of the value of your prize with the province

The Régie des alcools, des courses et des jeux is the province’s “contest police” and requires that any contest posed to Quebec residents be registered with them, and adhere to a flurry of restrictive and (to the typical North American marketing mind) bizarre regulations, among them:

  • Complete a Publicity Contest notice to officially register the intent at least thirty days prior to the launch
  • Allow the Quebec government to determine whether you may change any aspect of the contest, and mediate any lawsuits
  • Follow the extensive Quebec regulations which are available on the Régie website
  • File a report once the contest has ended confirming that the prizes have been awarded and the full contact info of all winners

And this is the kicker… you also have to deposit “a sum of money with the board or in a trust account in a financial institution” an amount equal to 10% of the total monetary value of the prize. So let’s say that your North America-wide email marketing sweepstakes offers prizes totaling $10,000, you had better be ready to deposit $1,000 in the Canadian bank account of the Régie for the privilege of being able to propose your contest to Quebecers.

Right now many email marketers are scratching their heads and questioning the wisdom of offering a contest to the nearly 400 million people in the USA and Canada while jumping through these hoops to reach eight of those million or just two percent of the total. Many contests aren’t even figments of the marketer’s imagination thirty days before launch, and the prospect of coughing up 10% of the monetary total to place in some provincial authority’s bank account will strike many as completely outlandish. To avoid these convoluted ramifications make sure that you follow the lead of most online marketers and clearly note that all your contests are: “Void In Quebec.”