National Re-brand

Adding maple syrup to our anthem and tackling other national branding problems

Sixty years ago diamonds were not associated with weddings. These days it is a prevalent view that a union is not legitimate without one. The inherent qualities of a diamond make it suitable for drill bits, but thanks to “A Diamond is Forever”, a phrase crafted within the walls of an ad agency, the indestructible material is linked with neverending romance.

There’s another group out there hired to make cultural shifts. This second group has a weapon at their disposal that ad agencies don’t: laws. We need to convince people to wear seat belts? Make it illegal to ride without one. We need to convince restaurants to serve safe food? Shut them down if they do not follow Regulation A, B or C. We want people to stop smoking in public spaces? Again, just modify the rule book.

Lawmakers have another advantage over ad agencies: Ad agencies are usually tasked with getting us to do something against our interests. Smoking instead of not smoking, for example. Or upgrading from an iPhone 6 to a 6s, a change that will surely decrease the amount of cash in our pockets, but almost as surely make no lasting change in our life satisfaction.

Politicians have the privilege of being tasked with making positive social changes. Reducing social inequality is best for everyone, even those at the top. Having safer, quieter neighbourhoods is better for everyone, even those with fast cars. Reducing our environmental impact is in the interest of our children that are the focus of many of our lives.

Despite (or maybe because of) the ease that politicians have in changing our behaviors, they typically don’t bother with the creativity that ad agencies have no choice but to employ.

What if politicians embraced the challenge of leading people to change? What if the politician thought more like an ad person?

Changing the brand

The Nike brand is regarded as one of the most valuable in the world -- we buy things because it has their logo on it. The logo adds huge value to anything you stick it on and they only paid $35 for it. That seems like a rip off for the designer until you consider that $35 for a check mark isn’t all that great of a deal.

The colours, logo or name of a brand usually mean almost nothing on their own. Symbols are filled with meaning by the actions of the organization they are associated with. The real value in the Nike swoosh was infused bit-by-bit by good shoes, uplifting ideas like “Just do it” and Michael Jordan. But, while it’s true that symbols symbolize nothing without repeatedly being attached to something of meaning, a change in a design can help signal a change in values or product.

Xerox changed their colour to red when they wanted to be known not just for photocopiers but as an energized tech company. McDonald's shied away from Hamburglar and the red and yellow of Ronald's socks when they started serving salad (in response to the Super Size Me documentary).

Canada's branding problems

People around the world are catching on to the fact that our nation isn’t as “glorious and free” as it was once thought to be. Word is spreading that we are among the world’s top polluters. Our military’s peacekeeping modus operandi has started to smell an awful lot like the American agenda. Our habit of passing the buck about First Nations issues isn't just our dirty little secret anymore.

If we were McDonald’s and we wanted the world to know that we’re turning away from our bad coffee ways, we’d certainly put on a fresh pot, but we’d also signal the change by calling ourselves “McCafe” and changing up some colours and stuff.

Right now our national colour is an aggressive red. Using green instead would signal an embracing of our nature loving side; Canada is a land of vast wilderness. Soft blue would be like ice; Canada has lots of ice. Perhaps we could go with House Party turquoise; it’s kind of a strange colour and a nation of people who feel it’s okay to be weird is a nation of free thinkers and innovators.

So what should Canada stand for?

What does it mean to be Canadian? What do we want it to mean to be a Canadian? This is the very basic start of a common branding exercise in the business world. Here’s a brainstormed list:

  • Friendly (Any Canadian who has travelled outside of our borders will have come across the delightful stereotype that we are a kind-hearted bunch)
  • Somewhat rugged people, in touch with nature, living in a land with more wilderness and extreme temperature swings than almost any other country.
  • Relaxed. The only problem with running in the race to see who can get through life the fastest is that you just might win. Let’s let other nations hash that one out.
  • Peaceful
  • Liberal attitudes compared to our conservative neighbours
  • Humble (Seeking to be humble is a positive way to channel a potentially problematic inferiority complex)

In the 1950’s the most common vehicle in Canada was the canoe. Did you know that today 8% of Canadians claim they've had sex in a canoe? Therefore, we will make the leap to say that at least 10x more than that have fantasized about having sex in a canoe. That’s 80% of Canadians and should be a stronger part of our national image than lemming militarism, fracking and other antique politics.

We are the United States’ endearing neighbour that everyone in the whole world likes better. We wear mukluks, toques and parkas. We eat maple syrup. We don’t care if you smoke pot. We may or may not lock our doors. We commonly apologize for apologizing. We acknowledge that we’ll never be as cool as Iceland, but our country ain’t half bad.

Re-branding example: Our anthem

You know how sometimes you are walking down the street and you find yourself singing O Canada? Just kidding. Of course you don’t. O Canada is a dull song. Shouldn’t our anthem be fun to sing? Should our national anthem be more of a drinking song?

Below are the lyrics to the song we’ve decided above all other songs will represent us. It is inventively called “O Canada”.

O Canada!
Our home and native land!
True patriot love in all thy sons command.

With glowing hearts we see thee rise,
The True North strong and free!

From far and wide,
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

God keep our land glorious and free!
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

"We stand on guard for thee." Who or what are we on guard against?

"Glorious" land? What makes it glorious? Some details would make this claim of gloriousness resonate. Convincing lyric writing shows rather than tells.

Where in these words are the references to plaid? What about multiculturalism and mountains? What about napping? (Study after study concludes that napping increases productivity. Can we afford not to work in a line encouraging napping culture in our anthem?)

Here is a thusly improved version:

O Canada!
Lumberjacks abound!
If no one sees ‘em then do they make a sound?

We help our neighbours moving their couch
when they ask nicely

Even though we didn’t do anything wrong
we still will say sor-ry

Romancing in canoes, naked in the trees!
O Canada, I feel your lovely breeze
O Canada, you’re good enough for me


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