Roots looks to redefine ‘nice’ in Canada 150 campaign

Behind the brand's attempt to challenge the Canadian stereotype.

Canadians are often perceived as “nice.” Roots agrees – it just wants to tweak the definition.

The apparel brand has joined the growing list of companies unveiling campaigns around Canada’s 150th anniversary with the launch of an online video Wednesday that will also play in cinemas beginning on Friday. The Garden handled the campaign creative with the brand’s internal team.

The “Nice” campaign takes a stab at encapsulating the national character in the anniversary year while subverting the stereotype. The video, narrated by actor Kim Cattrall, features images of tributes to fallen soldiers, vigils for the Montreal Massacre, Syrian refugees and indigenous Canadian protests, all in the interest of expanding the meaning of “nice.”

After ticking off  “polite nice” with a Mountie and the “funny nice” with John Candy and Dan Aykroyd, the spot enters more charged territory: Romeo Dallaire’s “kind of nice that takes guts,” Greenpeace’s “disruptive nice,” and when it comes to reconciliation with indigenous Canadians, “Nice is knowing when sorry just isn’t enough.”

“It’s all an initiative that celebrates the fact that a tremendous amount of things have been nice about Canada, as well as some things we recognize that we haven’t done well enough,” says James Connell, VP of e-commerce and marketing at Roots.

Celebrating Canada’s 150 years is a challenge for brands. Mining history to sell products and using iconic figures like Terry Fox (as the Roots ad does) can be fraught. The anniversary also doesn’t necessarily recognize what came before Confederation and can gloss over the unsavoury parts of what’s happened since.

Connell says it was important for Roots to recognize people living here before Confederation.

“It’s only fair and appropriate that we try to figure out how to both celebrate their contribution as well as recognize that there’s work that needs to be done in order to recognize their contribution in a bigger and better way, and that in the past they haven’t necessarily been treated fairly when it comes to their rights,” he says.

As for including scenes from the Highway of Heroes, the funeral route for convoys carrying soldiers who died in Afghanistan, or vigils following the 1989 shooting at Montreal’s École Polytechnique, The Garden co-founder Shane Ogilvie says it’s about showing how Canadians reacted and adding that context to the definition of “nice.”

“Using those things was necessary to show the depths and the courage that Canadians are willing to go to, to be Canadian and to continue living the way we do,” he says. “So we were comfortable with it.”

The campaign also includes a search for Canada’s nicest person and fundraising for WE’s indigenous youth program, where all profits from Roots’ “nice” button and enamel pin will go to the program, with a minimum goal of $150,000.

Canadians can also nominate compatriots for the “Canada’s Nicest Person” contest in May on social media using the hashtags #BeNice and #RootsIsCanada. Ten finalists will be chosen and posted on the Roots website in June for an online vote. The winner will be revealed June 20, with $10,000 going to a charity of their choice. Digital agency Arcane is handling social strategy.

Roots is also celebrating the sesquicentennial with a Canada Collection clothing line and art installations at five retail locations in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Ottawa, featuring artists Candace Bell Osbourne, WIA, Elicser, Ilya Viryachev and Ryan Enn Hughes.