It’s all in the attitude

Back in my undergrad days, I minored in something called Canadian Studies. This meant spending the majority of class time talking about the differences between Canucks and Americans. 'Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness' versus 'peace, order and good government,' and things like that.

Back in my undergrad days, I minored in something called Canadian Studies. This meant spending the majority of class time talking about the differences between Canucks and Americans. ‘Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ versus ‘peace, order and good government,’ and things like that.

It irked me that we defined ourselves by how much we weren’t like them – it was such typical younger-sibling, inferiority-complex-laden behaviour. Yet, I’ve since learned it is emblematic of a broader attitude that seems to permeate all aspects of Canadian life, including business and marketing.

As our panelists in this issue’s Biz feature, beginning on page 11, point out: It ain’t ever been easy living above the ‘white elephant.’ The discussion focuses on how to keep ownership of brand strategy north of the 49th parallel. And yes, a natural defence would be to highlight our discrepancies, although as John Bradley opines in his column on page 75, that may not be the best way to go.

His take? Promote Canada’s similarities to the U.S. and, therefore, hold up this country as an impeccable test market. Makes sense. And even in cases – increasingly so it seems – where there is no choice but to embrace a U.S.-led global strategy, roundtable participant Tony Matta, director of marketing at Frito Lay Canada, maintains there is still an opportunity to own it, to ‘embrace the hell out of an idea and blow it out of the water.’

Such uncharacteristic behaviour for a Canuck, though, would mean you’d have to stop quietly comparing us to them and start taking risks, screaming at the world, banging on walls to get attention.

That appears to be Paul Lavoie’s philosophy – and I’d bet it’s linked to the fact that Taxi has won strategy’s Agency of the Year competition for the fourth time in a row. I interviewed the shop’s chairman/CCO early in 2005, right after his expansion to NYC, a gutsy move considering he entered that aggressive market minus any clients. But Lavoie seemed unfazed: ‘It’s about believing in a goal, being consistent in our approach, and being patient for things to happen. And they will, because we have a great reputation in the creative community.’

That reputation, he explained, is intact because of Taxi’s ability to ‘go after the right relationships’ instead of ‘pitching everything that moves,’ enabling the shop to keep a tight leash on its own brand.

Taxi isn’t the only plucky one. Our silver winner, Rethink, has a similar mantra (the gang even refuses to do spec work), and seems to have a knack for convincing the handlers of big brands like Bell Solo and Future Shop to stretch themselves, creatively speaking. And it’s not all about the small guys either: BBDO nabbed bronze, proving big doesn’t have to be boring with attention-grabbing Canadian work for multinational marketers like FedEx and Pepsi.

Lavoie, for one, wouldn’t be surprised by such a strong showing: ‘Canadians are incredibly creative,’ he told me. ‘I can see it in our work, in our thinking. The challenge is to put the pieces together and build something.’ It starts though, with the right attitude.

Lisa D’Innocenzo, Editor