When Jake Tyler was trying to decide where to start his financial technology business, the world was open to him. He’d lived in Australia, worked in London and studied in Spain. In the end, it was Vancouver that lured him. Tyler, working with startup accelerator Highline, was able to enter a visa program that fast-tracks citizenship for entrepreneurs. He describes the culture as “welcoming” and “diverse” and said there was a draw because of “the opportunities for people who want to build something.” But, he said, “the visa program was the closer.”
In 2006, just over half of all Canadian immigrants came to the country for economic reasons. Today it’s nearly two in three. They come in pursuit of the Canadian Dream, which might sound a bit like a nostalgic look at the American Dream, but is actually a uniquely Canuck ideal.
“It’s a shared set of values driven by four core tenets and it’s shared across demographics,” said Mary Chambers, Chief Strategy Officer for McCann Canada. According to an in-depth study of Canadian culture the agency conducted with Ipsos, those beliefs are: individual success; care for one another; respect for the system – not a passive respect but a realization of the freedom it gives; and tolerance.
Chambers said that it’s the desire to care and help others succeed that’s an especially Canadian trait. “If you envision me climbing my ladder, as a Canadian I’d reach my hand behind me and help my fellow Canadian climb that ladder with me,” she said.
A powerful ecosystem
“It’s what makes the Canadian ecosystem powerful,” said Tyler. “It’s people helping out and the network is very strong.” Now the company he co-founded, Finn.ai – an AI-powered financial assistant that he describes as “Siri for banking” – is working to bring other talent into Canada.
“It’s a dream but it’s an active one. It’s less about chasing and more about living,” Chambers said. “[Canadians] truly believe in living that dream every moment, every day. The journey is very important – it’s not the aspirational destination of the dream.”
That active exploration is in part what lead McCann’s client Chevrolet to go out and discover it first-hand. Timed with the nation’s 150th birthday, Chevrolet set off to uncover the Canadian dream in progress. A film crew spent a month driving across the country in a Suburban to create a long-form mini-documentary style video and related creative imagery.
That might seem an unusual proposition for a brand as closely tied to the American Dream as baseball, hotdogs and apple pie. But McCann worked with the brand to understand how to embrace its 100-year history in the country. It’s a dream that equates to an identity corporations can take part in and celebrate, to various degrees. That could take the shape of using national symbols and icons like the maple leaf and hockey, or showing Canadian retail or manufacturing locations, or demonstrating shared values – with the Canadian people.
How to be authentic
Interestingly, the campaign was not overtly a Chevy ad. You never, for instance, see the Suburban they’re driving. “It’s as important to provoke a cultural conversation as it is to promote your product,” said Chambers.
“Global brands need to go country to country and understand how you can be locally and culturally meaningful,” said Chambers, “It doesn’t mean losing sight of who they are. It means understanding who they are and how that can be interpreted in a local culture.”
As Adweek wrote, “In America, whose progressive experiment is seemingly stuck in neutral, such melting-pot brand boosting might fall flat. In Canada, however, where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responded to Trump’s immigration ban by assuring refugees they’ll always be welcome, these themes appear primed to accelerate.”
That welcoming aspect of Canadian culture shows in the video and in the research.
Another Ipsos study found that “tolerance for people of other faiths and ethnicities” was one of the most important dimensions of Canadian culture, along with their social services and system of government. Canadians feel they’re putting these ideals into practice. Progress has been made in the last 25 years on racial tolerance (44% agree it’s better, an additional 38% think it’s unchanged), gender equality (61% better, 31% unchanged) religious tolerance (35%, 40%) and other issues. Another 80% think Canada, with a growing immigrant population, is a welcoming place to people from other countries and 37% think immigration has a positive impact on the nation.
One final aspect of the Canadian Dream that the research uncovered is that it’s uniform for all Canadians. At the outset, McCann had planned to tell different stories based on demos, or provincial geography, but there wasn’t variation in the data. “It was more values and attitudes that aligned us,” said Chambers.
The dream itself might be shared across demographics, but as in other parts of the world it’s not a reality for everyone. Nationalist tendencies are evident as well – 36% think there are too many immigrants in Canada and 42% think immigration is causing Canada to change in ways they don’t like.
The demographics are still important, but perhaps more for the creative applications of the brand message than for the overall strategy of communicating to Canadians. In this case, the Canadian Dream gave the agency a different layer to look at. “We will always speak to women differently than we speak to men. It adds texture to our demographic data – it doesn’t throw it out the window,” added Chambers.
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