Monday, November 15, 2010

Branding Canada: The "Amity" Solution

I'm an American living in Canada.  I've been here long enough to start to feel attached to my new home.  But now that I'm "turning Canadian," I'm hyper-aware of all the ways in which Canada just doesn't get the respect it deserves.  It's a great country, but what do people associate with Canada?  Hockey, Tim Hortons, the occasional moose.  For most of us, it's not the kind of list that stirs the imagination.

I think what Canada has is a branding problem.  You know, we American's are always up on the latest bullshit, and the latest bullshit is branding.  OK -- so it's kind of 1990s bullshit -- but still, this just shows how bad things have gotten, because you gotta admit that branding-wise, Canada is behind the 8-ball.

You know they know something's wrong because they put the name "Canada" everywhere.  On bridges, on posters, on anything that is national, you'll see the Canada symbol with the little maple leaf.  You don't see that in the US.  The US doesn't need to say "US" every five seconds, because everyone knows the US is one of the big dogs.  People bring it out to make points about stuff but it's not on bridges and signs, that's for sure.

So in spite of trying, that "Canada" everywhere has always seemed to me a sign of -- well, of insecurity.

What we need up here, it seems to me, are more of those kind of idealistic, overblown, self-image things that move the heart before the mind has a chance to get too analytical.  Like, you know, when Americans say "freedom" -- it gets us all wound up before we get bogged down thinking about our various lack of freedoms and our coercive practices on other nations and all those ... you know ... ugly details.

And since you've read the title of this piece, you know where I'm going with this.  The place to start is with the motto, and I propose amity.  You know how the French are all, "liberté, egalité, fraternité"?  Well, we're gonna be all "amitié, dude."

Here's what amity as a motto has going for it:

First and most importantly, it's accurate.  Canada is friendly.

Of course, Canada known for the friendliness of its people.  The recent Times story about immigration cited actual immigrants to Manitoba saying things like, "everyone said the people are really friendly, and it's actually true."  How many places can you say that of?

More importantly, though, Canada adopts friendliness in its relations with other nations.  It's a peace-keeping nation, a nation that builds relationships, a nation that tries to be nice and not to throw its weight around.  "But, Afghanistan!" you'll say.  Meh.  Details, details.  These kinds of symbols can't be undone by pesky little facts.  If there's one thing you learn about branding from the US, it's that only the big picture makes any difference.

Also, "amity" is the kind of motto that could actually go up against some other mottos and win.  It's no weakling.  I mean, pit it against "freedom," and the results are really non-obvious.  I mean, it's nice to be free, but if everyone's against you and you got no friends?  Not so great, after all.

Plus, friendship is such a twenty-first century concept.  Sure freedom was nice when everyone had eight million square miles of their own.  But now we're living on top of each other, polluting one another's air and water, driving the planet to ruin -- time for some fucking friendship!

The final reason "amity" makes such a nice motto for Canada is that it has elegant, and similar, expressions in both French and English.  Hell, it's even a word derived from French.

So really, I can't see any problems.  I don't have the mental energy to turn this into any sort of movement, but if you happen to be reading and you have the ear of the prime minister, let him know about my idea, OK?  I will thank you, and Canada will thank you, I assure you.

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