Today, I’d like to talk about marketing: Specifically the most recent ad campaign for Molson Canadian. If you watch prime time TV, you’ve probably seen this one already, but the link to the commercial is here.
“We Canadians see things a little differently. We don’t see cliffs, we see diving boards. We don’t see untamed wilderness, we see freedom. We don’t see jagged rocks, we see front row seats. We don’t see the middle of nowhere, we see the best backyard in the world. We don’t see barley fields, we see a beer clean, crisp and fresh as the country it comes from. So here’s to everything this land gives us. Molson Canadian. Made from Canada.”
If you actually parse the script instead of just looking at the pretty pictures of mountains and waterfalls, there’s an interesting case to be made for the language that Molson is using here. The first thing that you’ve got to notice is the assumption made at the very beginning. They’re using the pronoun ‘We.’ It’s non-discriminatory in terms of gender. The pronoun takes care of that. From the start, they’re making the assumption that you’re already on board. They’re also making the assumption that as a Canadian, you espouse a preset belief system: You like mountains and lakes and waterfalls and that you’re out there on the weekend risking life and limb in order to stand on a glacier.
They’re trying to include everyone in their blanket statement of assumed values and attitudes. They then use a series of statements followed by contradictions. If you think back, they did the same thing with the “I Am Canadian” rant; this example, not this stereotype. Fortunately, you can only go to the well on “stereotypes Americans have about Canada,” so many times (a fact which seems to be lost on a number of well meaning CBC comedy programs.) Canadians are not Americans and that must mean we’re good. Zed. Not Zee. Ha-ha!
I’ve frequently seen the criticism about the rant that defining yourself in terms of the absence of specific qualities is just lame: I’m guessing none of you have ever gone on a month long methamphetamine bender. That’s a good thing. It’s just that it doesn’t belong on your resume. People probably aren’t talking about you in terms of the negative things that you’ve avoided. “There goes John. At least he’s never sacrificed a goat. And there’s Bob! He doesn’t play the bagpipes at four in the morning! What a swell guy.”
This time, Molson is ignoring that sort of defensive jingoism and is instead attempting to create a positive message about the way that real Canadians see our country: Rocks! Trees! Pristine wilderness! Unspoiled natural beauty! We are the descendents of the Coureurs De Bois and beavers quake in our presence! We are Canadians and we will get out there and we will canoe to a glacier and we will sit on top of it and survey this mighty land! And we will use a grizzly bear as an ottoman! And we will do it while drinking a beer!
There’s a slight problem here: It doesn’t reflect anyone’s actual experience.
We’re a country of over 32 million people and 80% of us live in towns with populations over 10,000. Nearly a fifth of us live in the GTA. And even if you live in the GTA, you don’t necessarily live in Toronto proper. And even the people who live in Toronto don’t live in Toronto. They live in small neighbourhoods.
In a way, the commercial is right: We don’t see cliffs. We don’t see untamed wilderness. We don’t see jagged rocks. We don’t see the middle of nowhere. In point of fact, the most stirring example of natural splendor that I’ve seen today was when a pigeon flew head on into the netting on my balcony and then staggered around dazed for a while. I’m willing to bet that if you stood on the street and asked people whether they would jump off a cliff because they’re Canadian, you would be committed. When was the last time you were anywhere near the top of a mountain? Let’s give you the benefit of the doubt, and say that you’re a REAL Canadian and it was last weekend. It’s not a front row seat to anything, although I am in favour of telling Nickelback there’s a stage up there on the off chance that we can get rid of them for a while.
I don’t see it being a very successful campaign for Molson, if only for the reason that the kind of patriotism being sold doesn’t apply to anyone. It’s a hugely diverse country with a giant land mass which encompasses varieties of heritage and ethnicity. The argument of a unified national character is simply unbelievable: There has never been any such thing. We are a confederation of regions, and each of them has their own character. People are getting into locavorism and recognizing the strengths of their regions more than ever before. It’s one of the reasons why craft brewing is gaining in popularity; it reflects local experience.
Craft brewers are relatively malleable operations and can adjust their recipes to public taste; Molson has to rely on an ad campaign to tell you that you should like their product because you sat next to a lake once. Craft brewers are willing to talk about the contents of the bottle; Molson periodically redesigns their packaging. You’re essentially choosing between a product that can stand on its own merit and an unchanging product that requires an advertising campaign designed to play with your concept of patriotism in order to sell itself. If there must be patriotism, let us find a rhetorical strain that doesn’t involve a macrobrewed lager: Be proud of the fact you live in a country strong enough to support diversity. Display your confidence in that diversity by buying local.
“Made from Canada” is a ridiculous concept. “Made down the street?” I can get behind that.
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