We Just Got Repositioned



Originally published in Applied Arts Magazine, 2016



Brand Canada is enjoying a boost—despite zero effort

Often has this column lamented the mismanagement of Canada’s brand.

Whether at the hands of a control freak like our last prime minister, who did everything he could to reshape it in his own image, or languishing low on the long list of national priorities of previous governments and getting no love at all, Brand Canada never seems to have hit quite the right note out there in the big wide world.

Granted, it’s tough to get anyone’s attention when you live next door to what has been the most powerful country in the world for the last 60 or 70 years. During that time, while America has been busy promoting itself as leader of the free world, Canada has been practically invisible on the world stage.

In fairness, we can’t just blame our lack of visibility on our more assertive neighbour to the south. As a culture, we are far less bellicose and naturally less inclined to promote ourselves. There is no Barnum and Bailey in the DNA of Canada. So if we have a less visible profile, it is because we have not felt compelled to cultivate one.

Many in our trade have attempted to awaken us from this turpitude, promoting the idea that Canada can be a creative leader and a hotbed of innovation. Business gurus have been engaged to advise us on how to compete as a nation, and they too pitch innovation as Canada’s path to progress. Right they may be, but so far, no one in Ottawa seems to be listening.

So it was with great amusement and not a little shock that I read an article in The Economist a couple of weeks ago that branded Canada as the last remaining bulwark of liberal democracy in the free world. Suddenly all the attributes that have kept us out of the news all these years—our self-effacing, apologetic demeanour, our level-headedness, or even more stinging, what The Economist called our irredeemable dullness—have made us absolute standouts. By dint of doing absolutely nothing, we have differentiated ourselves.

In a world where governments are busy putting up walls to trade and immigration and are becoming generally more right wing and protectionist, Canada looks like a “citadel of decency, tolerance and good sense." As evidence of that, the article cites our generous acceptance of 33,000 Syrian refugees (far more than the US), our admission of almost 300,000 immigrants a year (a higher proportion than any other big, rich country), our enthusiasm for free trade, our sane gun control laws, our strong social safety net and our likelihood of becoming the first Western country to legalize marijuana as evidence that Canada is an island of sanity in a world gone mad.


We are far from perfect. Look at our treatment of First Nations. Look at the bumpy integration of new Canadians into our economy and our society. Nor does our over-reliance on resource extraction bode well for our economic future. We have work to do. But compared to the rise of populist nativism and the swing to political polarity and extremism we have seen in Europe and the US, Brand Canada is becoming unique in the free world.

It’s not unusual for a brand to reposition a category. Tylenol did it with aspirin. Stolichnaya did it with vodka—only to be quickly repositioned by Absolut, and then by Grey Goose and Belvedere. But for a whole category to reposition a single brand? That is rare.

We’re experiencing something that the great strategist of ancient China, Sun Tzu, would have admired. As he advised, “The moon and the sun learned long ago that, if each patiently waits its turn, they will both have their chance to shine." Looks like we may be having ours right now, and at a time when the world needs it most. Shine on, Canada! wn

will novosedlik