Canada redesigned: U.S. public radio program rebrands the Great White North
July 04, 2012
Tristin Hopper Jul 3, 2012 – 11:44 PM ET | Last Updated: Jul 3, 2012 11:55 PM ET
Bruce Mau Design
Promotional ad campaign “Know Canada” aims to “educate Americans” about their neighbours to the north.
Weary of beavers, maple syrup and Mounties, for Canada’s 145th birthday the U.S. public radio program Studio 360 decided to present Canada with a promotional “redesign.” The result, debuted over the weekend, was “Know Canada,” a campaign to “educate Americans” about the Great White North under a logo forged from the twin red bars of the Canadian flag.
“What’s nice about it is how simple it is, you don’t need a lot of backstory to get it,” said Hunter Tura, president of Bruce Mau Design, which drafted the campaign. With offices in Toronto and New York, the firm was founded by Sudbury, Ont., designer Bruce Mau and has run campaigns for Unilever and General Electric.
An introductory package has the twin bars emblazoned on T-shirts, beer mugs and the tail fins of Air Canada jets. Know Canada posters and a Know Canada TV spot feature Canadian icons such as Margaret Atwood, Justin Bieber and Fay Wray framed between the red bars. At Canadian outdoor festivals, twin red monoliths could frame the entrance. Designers even dreamed that the bars could one day bookend the Canadian passport stamp.
“We do want to show this work to Canadian politicians, and see if we can advance some of these initial ideas that we’ve had,” Mr. Tura told Studio 360 host Kurt Andersen on its “Canada Redesigned” show, which premiered Friday.
As the team quickly discovered in its research, Canada is already one of the world’s most tightly branded countries. In 1969, when the Treasury Board was drawing up nationwide bilingualism standards, they also laid out strict identity guidelines for federal departments. Today, more than 30 agencies and Crown corporations fall under the Federal Identity Program, which mandates a uniform typeface and symbology.
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“Whether I’m applying for my permanent residency, paying my taxes or looking at the signs in front of [Parliament Hill], it’s all part of the same system,” said Mr. Tura.
In 2010, the U.S.-based brand consulting firm FutureBrand named Canada the world’s most respected country brand, owing in part to the 2010 Winter Olympics and the award-winning “Keep Exploring” campaign commissioned by the Canadian Tourism Commission.
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada similarly maintains a strict “Brand Canada” campaign to keep Canadian beef, fruit and liquor on foreign store shelves.
Even the scandal-plagued RCMP consistently retains seven-figure sales of RCMP-licensed plush toys, die-cast cars and coffee mugs. “It’s still a strong recognized brand,” said Pete MacCormack with the RCMP Foundation, a registered charity that manages the commercial use of RCMP products.
Although the Know Canada campaign was hashed out at BMD’s Toronto headquarters, the team was made up exclusively of U.S. expats.
“We did specifically want Americans working on the project,” said Studio 360 senior producer Leital Molad. “What we were really trying to get at with the Canada project was American ignorance and just not really knowing our neighbours,” said Ms. Molad.
In one conceptual illustration, the red bars frame a massive Times Square billboard reading “peanut butter was invented in Canada.” Another features a New York bus stop ad emblazoned with the paint roller, another Canadian invention.
BRUCE MAU DESIGN / Photo illustration
Studio 360, a joint production of Public Radio International and New York’s WNYC, has a long history of marshalling designers to playfully rebrand concepts ranging from Monopoly to the gay flag to the chalk-and-apple symbology surrounding schoolteachers.
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In 2006 for its inaugural redesign the show suggested replacing Christmas with “X.mas,” a non-denominational holiday with an all-white colour scheme and a United Nations-esque international co-ordinating committee. For years later, a pair of Studio 360-commissioned designers suggested revamping Valentine’s Day by swapping out roses for chili peppers and replacing the iconic heart symbol with a stylized “V.”
Thus far, most of the campaigns have failed to make any substantial breakout into the real world. “But what we have opened up is dialogue among the different communities that are connected to these things, outside of just Studio 360 listeners,” said Ms. Molad.
Early Canadian respondents have pegged the campaign as a “bold” contrast to the usual Canadian stereotypes of meekness, with Vancouver magazine Here and Elsewhere calling the project “significantly more hip and contemporary” than the typical national ad campaigns featuring moose, glaciers and bears.
From within domestic design circles, the campaign has garnered mixed reviews
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“Truthfully, I think the thing is so intellectually lazy that it makes me angry,” said Gary Ludwig, a principal with Toronto-based design firm Hark Ideas. “There’s a number of people we meet in the business world who think that branding is just a superficial gloss that you paint over an enterprise — and I think this epitomizes why people feel this way.”
“It’s a very pretty picture, but what’s the association? What’s the message, aside from ‘we’ve got some successful people, too?’” said Kenneth Wong, a professor of marketing at Queen’s University.
In conjunction with the Redesign Canada project, CBC Radio’s Q has launched a competing “Redesigning America” project. On Wednesday — Independence Day — the show is announcing the winner of its listener-submitted six-word slogan competition.
Early entrants include “It’s time we got to know you” and “America: Entertaining the world.”