Branding Canada necessary, says expert

Most international shoppers draw a blank when asked to name products, companies or brands they associate with Canada — the result of years of branding neglect by Canadian business and government, a leading marketing scholar says.

Nicolas Papadopoulos, a marketing and international business professor at Carleton University, chastised the lackadaisical approach to branding Canada in a speech this week in Ottawa titled A Brand Named Canada: Nations in a world of competing images.

Papadopoulos told the audience that 65 per cent of respondents in a 15-country survey couldn’t think of a thing when asked about Canadian business.

“The incidents of ‘blanks’ is highest for Canada, by a wide margin,” he said.

Only 17 per cent could identify a brand; Molson and Air Canada led the pack.

The business professor, who has been studying country branding for two decades, rhymed off examples of how companies insert place branding into their marketing campaigns, including Rimmel London, L’Oreal Paris or Deutsche Telekom.

Then, there’s overwhelming identification of Toyota with Japan, where 22 per cent of the 58,000 respondents linked the car company with the country. There are no such examples involving corporate giants in Canada, he said in an interview.

Papadopoulos chalks up Canada’s brand problem to a complacent federal government and short-sighted businesses.
“We need buy-in from Canadian industry. Industry has to come on board. Either they’re going to stick a maple leaf on everything, figuratively speaking, or they don’t,” said Papadopoulos.

“With globalization, companies have tried to create global images for themselves, but I have no doubt people know where Coca-Cola or Microsoft come from.”

Referring to the global BlackBerry phenomenon created by the Waterloo-based company Research in Motion, he added, “If you sell them the BlackBerry, tell them it’s Canadian.”

Meanwhile, Ottawa needs to step up and co-ordinate the promotion of Canada’s diverse industries to international consumers, says Papadopoulos.

” ‘Canada is a lovely country’ won’t do it. Showcase individual Canadian products.”

His research shows that consumers abroad know little to nothing about Canada, but rate Canadian products as “OK” because of a “halo effect from their liking of the country and its people in general.”

Some agencies have taken on the challenge in recent years. The Canadian Tourism Commission launched Brand Canada as a destination brand, with the tagline “Canada. Keep Exploring.”

The Ministry of Agriculture’s Branding Canada program, developed in consultation with industry, promotes food exports with the line, “Quality is in our nature.”

The Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance last year developed a Canadian Brand campaign to promote Canada as a “global sourcing destination of choice and differentiates the country from competing nations.”