Canadians are not usually perceived as quite as patriotic as our American neighbours, but with this year marking Canada’s 150th birthday there is a special nationalistic sentiment in the air, and brands big and small are jumping on the patriotism bandwagon with Canada 150 campaigns.

While some brands go as far as attaching a maple leaf to their logo and calling it a day, others are stepping up to the plate and asking serious questions about how their brand contributes to the Canadian identity. However, leveraging this reflective time for Canadians in any brand’s marketing efforts can be a risky move if not well thought out. Without the right focus, brands could face backlash and ridicule from consumers over campaigns that are clichéd, contrived or otherwise underdeveloped. We looked at what worked and what didn’t, and came up with five rules for paying homage to our home and native land in marketing campaigns this year.

1. Include real Canadians

Nothing shapes a country’s identity more than the diversity of its people. Canada has long been seen as a mosaic of vastly different cultural experiences and some brands are using those stories to carve their place in the Canadian narrative. Harley Davidson created a doc-style branded content series that focuses on real-life bikers from around the world as they are guided through a different region of Canada each week by a local biker host. The content is engaging for the intended market, but it also puts Harley Davidson at the epicentre of Canadian biker culture. While these 10-15 minute long videos don’t overtly mention Harley Davidson or Canada 150, the implied connection between the company’s 100 year old presence in the country and the birth of the nation is there underneath the genuinely entertaining coverage of the bikers.

2. Leverage brand history

Companies who have been around for decades often use their age as a way project a sense of reliability customers. Brands that have had a strong presence in Canada for years can use this to show their commitment to Canadian values and their contribution to Canada through long standing business. The Hudson’s Bay has an obvious reason for taking this route, as it’s been around as long as the country itself. This is an authentic way to create an intersection between Canada’s birthday and a brand’s milestones without creating an over thought or forced connection. This shows the brand has a greater understanding of Canada as a complex and ever-changing marketplace where they have made enough right moves to stay in the game for a long time.

3. Speak to Canadian values

As Canadians, most of us are proud of our national values, particularly at a time when our Southern neighbours face a serious divide among theirs. Our openness to diversity, appreciation for the arts and our overall “niceness” are often touted as some of our most endearing qualities as a nation. Some brands, like Roots for example, are focusing on a particular value that Canadians identify with and connecting their brand to that. Roots’ Canada 150 campaign is all about being nice, but not just the kind of nice you’d expect anywhere. This is “the kind of nice that takes guts”. It paints Canadians as morally strong-headed, compassionate and diligent do-gooders for the world at large. Roots depicts Canadian niceness as a trait unique to just our people and in doing so pays homage to Canada as the special place we call home.

4. Have purpose

Any good branding strategy is driven by a purpose and an anticipated outcome that is beneficial to the brand in some way. Special event branding opportunities are no different. A good Canada 150 campaign does not simply insert Canadian identifiers into its everyday marketing strategy. Brands need to step back and ask what the intent is of sharing their patriotism. Slapping a maple leaf into a logo or going red and white is a transparent move that consumers see right through. They recognize that they are being sold a sentiment they are all too familiar with. Instead, brands need to ask themselves what the end goal of the campaign is. Do they want to inform Canadians about the understated history of their brand or celebrate an intersecting milestone of their own? Do they want to differentiate the Canadian subdivision of their brand from its American or global counterpart? Do they simply want to wish Canada a happy birthday, no strings attached? Any of these intentions are valid and can lead to an effective marketing campaign. The work is in deciding on that intention and then sticking to it throughout the year-long Canada 150 campaign season.

5. Ditch the cliches

To stand out in a sea of Canada 150 campaigns, brands are looking for unique ways to pay homage to Canadian life without relying on the old stereotypes like hockey, maple syrup and poutine. Instead, brands like Loblaw’s President’s Choice have used more contemporary symbols of Canadian culture, like the diverse cuisine we find all over the country. In a spot that was released earlier this year, President’s Choice uses food as a metaphor for our mosaic-like cultural makeup and our willingness to come together as Canadians despite our differences. It’s effective because it speaks to the times. While heritage is an important part of honouring our country, recognizing modern defining factors of Canadian life shows that brands are invested in Canadians today and this makes them come across as authentic and honest.

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Madelaine Sawyers

Author Madelaine Sawyers

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