Canada 150 offers us a unique opportunity to rethink 'Brand Canada'

Canada 150 offers us a unique opportunity to rethink ‘Brand Canada’

1024 576 Brandi Rees

By Jessica Savage
Senior Vice President

Canada’s 150th birthday is upon us, and Canadians are being inundated with marketing campaigns designed to tap into the patriotic fervour surrounding the celebration.

Obviously, there’s a tremendous opportunity for brands to hitch their messaging to this nationalistic milestone, unfortunately, many will simply attach a maple leaf to their company logo and half-heartedly wave the flag in an effort to drive sales.

What many brands fail to realize is that this kind of anniversary brings with it a unique and fleeting opportunity for Canadians to engage in a real dialogue about the nature of our collective narrative. It’s a chance for us to have a real conversation about who we are as a nation.

Canadian brands play a powerful role in helping to shape the way people in this country see themselves, and they need to be a part of this important conversation. The challenge however will be if brands showcase Canada in an authentic way – not with just cliché beavers, hockey and maple syrup.

Smart brands need to up the creative ante and go beyond simply jumping on the birthday bandwagon and ask themselves, how do their brands impact the Canadian identity? How does their brand contribute to shaping the national dialogue around what it means to be Canadian?

Don’t get me wrong, this is not a simple challenge. But at a time when many other countries are struggling with their own sense of national identity, Canada’s 150th birthday offers us a golden opportunity to reflect on what we stand for and how we choose to represent Canada when the rest of the world is looking.

There are a number of organizations that have contributed to the conversation. Tourism Toronto’s recent campaign titled “The views are different here,” successfully showcased what makes Toronto truly unique – a mixture of colours, cultures and perspectives colliding in an urban landscape. The inclusive video gained instant traction on social media, with Torontonians proudly sharing a video that accurately captured their city’s most authentic self.

Montreal will also be celebrating another major milestone this year – the city’s 375th anniversary. With a wealth of festivities planned for the year to celebrate the history, culture and iconic city spots, Montreal is not shying away from defining itself. Rooted in art and history, the festivities will include a 375-person line dance meant to reflect the diversity of the city with cast members from all ages and backgrounds. There will also be a number of musical performances, art exhibits and light shows, showcasing Montreal as one of Canada’s greatest cultural hubs. The celebrations express the vitality of Montreal while simultaneously looking back to their roots and keeping an eye to the future.

This year, and in the months ahead the conversation about what it means to be Canadian will reach an apex and brands have a unique opportunity to help shape our national identity.

Does this mean that all brands should be joining the conversation? Of course not.

Many Canadian brands – from Molson and Tim Hortons, to Roots and HBC – have spent decades helping to shape the Canadian narrative. Companies with deep Canadian roots will have an opportunity to showcase the country in an authentic way, far from the Mountie and moose caricatures Canadians long played up.

Corporate Canada can have a profound impact on the national conversation about Canadian identity, not only through marketing but also through tangible, real-world actions.

But this is not an easy challenge to address. There is no single narrative that applies to every Canadian. Indeed, the Canadian experience means something different for someone in Toronto compared to someone in Winnipeg, and there are differences for those who were born here, as opposed to those who made the decision to come to Canada.

We are a rich and complex blend of many cultures and stories. It would be misguided to attempt to create one vision and one narrative for our country when we contain so many converging storylines. Brands and marketers who allow stereotypes to dominate their messaging during the sesquicentennial are selling themselves, and their audiences, short.

To close, I’d like to issue an open challenge to Canadian brands to aim higher for Canada 150, and beyond. This is a unique moment to add your voice to our national story.

Let’s not let it ride by on a Moose in a Mountie hat.