Note: Image from Flickr
Back in 2003, the summer before I started university, I went to Spain to continue studying Spanish. For some reason, on this trip more than any other I had been on before, every time I mentioned I was from Canada someone would ask me a crazy question like, “Do you have a dog sled?” or “You use the American Dollar, right?”. I had heard rumors about these obscure questions before, but never was I asked one directly until this point.
It was on this trip, I started thinking about branding, not directly of course, but I couldn’t help but think, “Wow - no one knows anything about my country, other than we’re not American”. But then I couldn’t help but think, we, Canadians, don’t really know who we are either.
Most people in Canada are new to the country, or their parents and/or grandparents were born somewhere else. In fact, I have met few people whose families have been in Canada for generations. So with shallow roots, comes a shallow understanding of what it means to be Canadian.
It has felt like for years Canada has defined itself on what it is not! In fact, the first product brand to truly represent Canada was started by a couple of Americans. That brand was Roots. The apparel chain whose iconic beaver adorns its logo. So not even a Canadian was able to personify Canada, rather it came from two guys south of the border!
Maybe much of what Canada has stood for: Royal Mounted Police, Beavers, Maple, Smoked Salmon, Moose, Poutine, Beer, Plaid, etc. became too much of a cliche and rather then embracing who we are, we entered in an identity crisis hoping we could find something ‘cooler’ to be. But as we all know being cool is an elusive thing that can’t be attained, rather it just happens. Therefore, being authentic and honest about who you are is so much more important when growing brand perceptions.
So that’s why I was so impressed with the effect the Vancouver 2010 Olympics had on the Canadian brand as a whole! Finally, we embraced who we are: fun loving people, who like to wear plaid & jeans while eating poutine and enjoying a beer with friends, never taking ourselves too seriously!
For the first time, I saw our country express strong pride for our quirkiness, our ability too apologize too much and our hidden love for plaid (ok - maybe that one is just me)!
Note: Image from Aritzia.com
All the Canadian retailers, like Aritzia, Lululemon & The Bay, really pulled out all the stops and began to define Canadian style, and what’s best about it, everyone wanted a piece of it! Proving that people wanted to advertise their national pride - and to be clear we are not the type of country were people normally express their pride for fear of being rude or too obnoxious! But at this olympics we managed to show our pride in our way!
In all the television segments being broadcasted, stories of our athletes & pictures of the people in Vancouver, I finally saw a country come together and be Canadian for what it is rather than what it isn’t!
I hope this pride and understanding of what it means to be Canadian doesn’t disappear, because, as the first criteria in Saffron’s City Brand Criteria mentions, the pride & personality of the local people affect everything about the visitor’s experience in that place. Meaning, if Canadians are proud to be Canadian, the local atmosphere will be much more uplifting and exciting for visitors, because the locals will be excited to share their culture and country with others. It’s very similar to thinking about an organization - if the employees don’t believe in the product they are creating or selling, how can anyone else!
So, thank you Vancouver for a wonderful Olympics, and to all the countries who came and helped make the event what it was!