Why so proud, Canada?

From Tim Horton's to Rona, big brands have been showing their true patriot love in advertising lately.

It’s been hard not to notice the explosion of true patriot love these days. While Canadian pride in advertising is nothing new (Molson’s been doing it since 1995 with its “I Am” positioning), we’ve been seeing pride of epic proportions lately.
It seems to have begun with – no big surprise – the Olympics when brands like Rona, with its measuring tape travelling across the country, and Molson, with its “Made from Canada” spots, debuted new Canadian-focused campaigns. Fast-forward over a year, and those two brands continue their messaging, along with Tim Horton’s singing, toque-wearing coffee drinker from a few months ago, Canadian Tire’s recent “Bring it On” campaign and Coppertone’s spots urging us to enjoy the Canadian summer. 
So what gives? Philippe Garneau, ECD at GWP Brand Engineering, attributes it to several potential factors. First, Canada emerged from the recession relatively unscathed (at least compared to our southern neighbours) and our dollar has been generally on par. Then, of course, there were the Olympics, which we not only hosted, but did extremely well. Combine that with other factors, such as current and impending competitors from the U.S. (such as Target) and the unifying effect of being at war, and you have a perfect storm of Canadian pride.
“You’re looking at a series of symptoms that add up to the idea of selling yourself through your connection [to Canada],” says Garneau, but he adds, “I always stress authenticity – it wouldn’t be right for some brands to do it, and just having the word ‘Canadian’ doesn’t make it so.”
Being a homegrown brand helps, of course. Rona, for example, was well-known in its home province of Quebec, but to establish it as a major Canadian player in the home reno category, it saw a golden opportunity in the Olympic sponsorship, says André Paradis, creative director at Bos in Montreal, Rona’s AOR.
Rona kept up its Canadian focus in new spots, including one in which two men are yelling at each other from across the country about Rona’s locally sourced products, and a spot in which a couple stands in front of a tree in a Canadian forest, contemplating which wood to choose for their furniture.
The tree spot, emphasizing that Rona’s wood is all-Canadian, is the beginning of a new image campaign for the retailer, with several more similar spots set to air this summer.
“If a consumer is looking at Home Depot on the left and Rona on the right, the reflex of buying Canadian is something that kicks in,” says Paradis, noting that making verifiable claims is a key factor: “It’s a company that really puts their money where their mouth is.”
Even if a brand wasn’t born here, it doesn’t mean it can’t jump on the Canadian bandwagon and have it be authentic – it all depends on the positioning. For example, the Coppertone campaign, created by Toronto-based Sharpe Blackmore Euro RSCG, encourages viewers to get out and enjoy the Canadian summers – something we all treasure here since hot days are in short supply.
“[Summer is] short, you want to enjoy it, you don’t want to be in agony [from a sunburn], so it makes perfect sense. I think it’s a brilliant idea,” says Garneau.
So where can brands go wrong? “It becomes a bad strategy when it appears to be invoking patriotism,” says Garneau. “So if there’s any suggestion that because it’s Canadian you should favour it, almost like emotional blackmail, then it would fail utterly.”