2017 and Canada’s Place in the World

How brands can help build our nation’s identity through the sesquicentennial


CoCo Thumbnail Colette Goh, Coordinator, Client Strategy

After a turbulent 2016, political and economic experts have predicted a new global era of instability and nationalism. The media portrayed 2016 as a year of human rights injustice, war, and political upheaval, and now just a few weeks into 2017, global trust in government, business, and media is trending down (Edelman, 2017). For Canadians, there is a sense of unease as our future is strongly influenced by our southern neighbours. As the world watches the turmoil in the States, their gaze then turns northward in comparison -so where will Canada, as an open progressive country, stand in this changing world?

Canadians have long been defined by what we are not in relation to our neighbour. We are polite, not assertive. Humble, not arrogant. Quick to apologize, not accuse. A multicultural society not a melting pot.

And in comparison to other countries who are proud of their history and cultural symbols, we are most proud of our shared values: equality, diversity, and politeness (Havas Canada, 2016). With the current state of the world, these values make our country stand out more than ever. As President Obama (and Bono) famously stated, “The world needs more Canada.”

There is no better time than now for Canadians to lay claim to our unique place in the world. We are the number one country to visit in 2017 according to the Lonely Planet (2016). Our artists topped the music charts in 2016 (Spotify). We waved the flag from the podium in Rio (CTV, 2016). Our universities are among the best in the world (Times Higher Education, 2016). We step up when it comes to global issues like refugee resettlement (Global News, 2016). We are a young country but we have made a difference.

Where will we go from here?

2017 marks the 150th birthday of our country. Here’s an opportunity for us to show the world what makes Canada unique and inspiring. It’s a time to harness our growing momentum and influence to invest in telling a truly Canadian story. But, what does it mean to be truly Canadian?

It’s marching in solidarity and standing up against injustice. It’s celebrating our differences then uniting to wave the flag. It’s our year-round commitment to embracing the outdoors while whining about the weather. It’s bragging about our biggest stars (Drake & the Ryans) while renouncing the ones that make us cringe (Nickelback).

And here’s where brands and marketers come in. Brands have long been part of a country’s identity beyond its borders. Sweden’s Ikea, Japan’s Nintendo, and America’s McDonald’s are all cultural icons. So, which brands are going to step up and be part of creating a bigger story about what it means to be a Canadian today and for the next 150 years?

The good news for our industry is that Canadians want brands to be part of the story. Research shows 10.6 million Canadians want brands to help them celebrate our Sesquicentennial and 8.5 million want brands to focus on Canadians, not the brand itself (IMI, 2016). Brands should be excited to use the 150th birthday as a jumping-off point for a Canadian story that can be told through 2017 and beyond. It’s more than waving the flag on July 1st, it’s about aligning brand values with uniquely Canadian ones. HBC’s “Country of Adventurers” campaign is an example of an authentic Canadian story. The campaign showed how their brand was key to Canada’s beginning while celebrating the trail-blazing spirit of Canadians explorers. The 150th is an opportunity to dig deeper than our stereotypes and sharing stories that are real and representative of what being Canadian means today.

Since Canadians are most proud of our values, campaigns that celebrate our unique strengths resonate with consumers. We all remember Molson Canadian’s “I am Canadian” ad/rant that was released in 2000 and took the country by storm. Not only was it a hit with English Canadians from coast to coast, but their market share in English Canada rose 2.5% while competitor’s Labatt Blue dropped almost 3% (Robertson, 2013).While Air Canada’s Olympic campaign was called “Fly the Flag,” it spoke more to how their brand enables courageous Canadians who make a difference beyond our borders And Tim Hortons is top of mind when talking about iconic brands who are part of everyday Canadian life. They have continued to tell a youth community sport story while reflecting the different faces of Canadians. As a first generation Chinese-Canadian, the 2008 “Proud Fathers” commercial changed the way I viewed Tim Hortons. It resonated with me even though I have never played hockey because my culture was recognized by traditional Canadian brand.

Brands that contribute to Canadian culture and pride are seen as making Canadian lives better. These brands have recognized that sport has become a key pride point and a part of our collective identity as it unites people. Shaping Canadian culture and pride has paid off as Canadian Tire and Tim Hortons are consistently ranked among the best brands in Canada (Canadian Business Top Brands, Leger’s 100 Most Reputable Brands, etc.).

We have grown and changed in the past 150 years. We are a strong and peaceful country that is as diverse in landscape as we are in language and ethnicity. We are not perfect but we represent a hopeful future for countries that value freedom, diversity and excellence. If there’s ever a time to show the world that we are more than maple syrup, poutine, and ice hockey, it’s now.