It’s been said the world needs more Canada. In our increasingly diverse world, I believe global marketing needs the influence of more Canadians – and more Canadian creative agencies need to be involved.
One the most remarkable traits Canadians have is our attitude towards diversity. When other nations are closing borders, Canadians are doing the opposite and broadening their world view.
Justin Trudeau has ushered in two ideals that were controversial 50 years ago, but are Canada’s distinguishing differences today.
The first is a strong commitment to advancing gender and ethnic diversity. Half of his cabinet members are female. Trudeau’s second ideal is one he inherited from his father. That is a strong commitment to multiculturalism. Central to this ideal is that far from avoiding immigration, Canada needs to embrace it. After just two years in office, the Trudeau liberals have admitted over 40,000 Syrian refugees.
The world is noticing. Interest in Canadian universities has doubled; global tech firms are setting up or expanding research lhubs in the Toronto-Waterloo innovation corridor; and housing prices in Toronto and Vancouver are sky-rocketing. People everywhere want to live and work here.
Now is the time for Canadian business, and particularly its marketing and branding sectors, to start capitalizing on this unique position we’ve reached on the global podium.
True, the past year was challenging for consumer marketers and agencies, but I believe Canada’s unique and growing diversity can be turned into a pathway to competitive advantage – for Canadians and the world beyond our borders too.
Global brands today want to express themselves in a voice that is open and progressive. Their customers are pressing them to lead on social issues and have a positive societal impact. That is the Canadian way and is a natural part of our creative point of view.
For years, Canadian marketers have fought for creative approaches focused on the Canadian market instead of adapting campaigns from other markets.
Let’s flip that argument on its head because in an increasingly global world, Canadian marketers have a cultural sensibility that is aligned with the aspirations of global consumers.
There’s evidence global marketers would be open to hearing the pitch.
At the 2017 Cannes Lions Festival marketing leaders from Procter & Gamble and Unilever challenged their marketing agencies to make more progress on gender parity and diversity issues. The main stage at Cannes also hosted waves of celebrities and marketers making the case for diversity.
Unilever’s CMO, Keith Weed, says research shows ads with more progressive, diverse themes were 25 per cent more effective. Unilever is working with UN Women and other marketers in the Unstereotype Alliance to promote advertising that better reflects a progressive society, in a challenge to the status quo.
The inventor of modern management, Peter Drucker, once said “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” So why can’t Canadian culture be the chef that eats our competitors’ lunch?
We have a growing track record of doing this very thing:
- Ogilvy Toronto gave the world the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty which reframed the notion of beauty on more realistic terms and built a global brand. Unilever’s Dove “Self Esteem Project” has reached 20 million young people in 139 countries with a goal of building positive relationships with the way they look.
- The Ontario provincial government’s “A Place to Stand” campaign was a sunny part of the province’s 150th anniversary, and all about inclusivity. Created by the John St. agency, it showed Ontario as “a place for all of us” and the huge range of people able to call Ontario home.
- Harley-Davidson* motorcycles’ new campaign features a series of documentaries reflecting the diverse range of people who consider themselves Canadian today. Roaring good stuff by an iconic lifestyle brand seeking to diversify and attract new customers.
Even when we’re not directly promoting diversity, it pops up in in our work. Take the recent holiday campaign by Air Canada.*
“Our Home” is about the personal connections Canadians have to the place we call home and the way our stories embrace values of diversity and inclusion. Air Canada built on this embrace of multiculturalism during the 2018 Olympics with a new ad called “Our Time.”
Air Canada is a natural bearer of the Canadian flag, but sometimes other airlines experience the Canadian brand in times of need. The Broadway hit Come From Away tells how the town of Gander, Newfoundland, cared for thousands of Europeans and Americans whose flights to the US were forced to land there on 9/11. The show is about being nice to strangers and taking in foreigners. That’s a winning Canadian global brand platform that garnered the show seven Tony nominations and standing ovations.
It’s time for Canadian marketing firms to seize our natural platform as the welcoming voice of global brands and create better work that builds a better world.
*Air Canada and Harley-Davidson are clients of Weber Shandwick.