No, it’s not the new national anthem. The nation has simply decided to rebrand its international image by showing the world what exactly is Canada. As part of it’s series, “Studio 360,” a radio program hosted by Kurt Andersen and produced by WNYC and PRI, decided to tackle Canada’s image problem, particularly in the U.S., and commissioned Bruce Mau Design to head up the project. BMD has studios in both New York City and Toronto which obviously helped the in solving the problem even though the team working on the project was predominantly relocated Americans.
“Initially, we had Canadians and Americans participating in it,” says Hunter Tura, the studio’s president and CEO. “At a certain point, we made the decision to ban Canadians from working on it, because we felt that the discussion was bogging down into a number of the clichés we felt we wanted to get past. The idea was to look at the problem in a fresh and clear-eyed way.”
Ultimately, after interviewing many Canadians (including Mark McKinney and Scott Thompson from the comedy-sketch TV show Kids in the Hall and the author and artist Douglas Coupland), BMD came to the conclusion that Canada did not need to be rebranded. In actuality Americans just needed to be educated about Canada. This is where the new ‘brand’ adopted the tagline “Know Canada” (inspired by “You Ottawana get to know us,” a slogan submitted by a “360” listener).
This educational approach called for the jettisoning of Canadian iconography such as beavers, hockey, and the infamous maple leaf. Early on in the exercise, one of the designers drew a Canadian flag, placing a question mark where the maple leaf would be. That turned out to be a breakthrough moment, with the designers deciding to retain the iconic bars of the flag to frame 21st-century symbols of Canadian culture—everything from Arcade Fire and Justin Bieber to socialized health care and Ryan Gosling.
“By removing the maple leaf and adding imagery, the system became totally flexible,” says Sarah Foelske, the associate creative director who headed the team. “We could speak to politicians. We could speak to creatives. We could speak to so many different things while also staying true to what Canada really was.”
BMD hopes that the Canadian government will be interested in adopting the campaign, now that the materials have been made public at KnowCanada.org, just in time for Canada Day, July 1st. Yes, that’s a real day. Cheers!