Nation Rebranding 101: Inside the “Know Canada” Campaign
Bruce Mau Design tackles the art of the large-scale makeoverBy Anne Quito, Superscript September 4, 2013
Give Canada a brand makeover. This was the challenge Studio 360 with Kurt Andersen presented the Toronto-based creative team at Bruce Mau Design (BMD). Though Canada is consistently ranked within the top three in the Country Brand Index, its reputation seems to be stuck in a quagmire of clichés—maple leaves, hockey fights, and beavers. Anne Quito caught up with Hunter Tura, president and CEO of BMD and project design lead, to get the behind-the-scenes story.
Anne Quito: To rebrand a nation is quite the challenge. How did you approach this project?
Hunter Tura: While this was a speculative project, we took it very seriously. This was being launched for Canada’s 145th birthday and we wanted to do the best job we could. As a research-driven practice, we went through our typical research sequence that included a series of interviews. Among the people we talked to were notable Canadians, including members of the band Sloan, cast members of the TV show “Kids in the Hall,” and iconic Canadian novelist and artist Douglas Coupland.
We also tapped into our experience with similar large-scale branding assignments like a project we did for Guatemala and our experience in urban branding, as well as our work for global organizations like Unilever. We’ve already been thinking about how brand systems work on a very large scale and how they resonate with a complex set of stakeholders and audiences.
AQ: How did you arrive at “Know Canada”?
HT: That line comes from a quote from Scott Thompson of “Kids in the Hall”: “We know you but you don’t know us.” One of the key insights we gleaned during those interviews was that we were not trying to redesign or rebrand Canada but rather we were trying to educate Americans about the amazing things that were already happening in technology, literature, art, music, and medicine.
The visual look came fairly quickly. At one point during our brainstorming session, we collaboratively sketched out a diagram with the two red bars from the Canadian flag and placed a question mark where the maple leaf was. That became the generative image to probe the question, “What represents Canada now?”
AQ: What kind of response did you receive?
HT: Our earnestness was met with the reaction we’d hope for. We’ve received a really nice response—emails, media coverage, over 65,000 views on YouTube. Since then, we’ve actually continued to work on the brand. From a speculative project, it’s evolved to be almost entrepreneurial endeavor. In fact this year, we’ve partnered with Orange Claw Hammer to develop an iPhone app that launched just before Canada Day. The photo app gives people a tool to express their Canada, a way to capture their 21st-century Canada.
AQ: Has the Canadian government contacted you about implementing “Know Canada”?
HT: Canada has a very strong visual brand—an incredibly modern and resilient brand. The Federal Identity Program provides an amazing set of guidelines that outlines the various expressions of the Canadian brand. We noticed that the current administration seems to be emphasizing a more historic point of view, more 19th- and 20th-century, at least visually. With “Know Canada,” we wanted to advance a 21st-century picture.
AQ: As a trained architect, can you speak about the role of architecture in defining a nation’s identity?
HT: Before I came to BMD, I had the opportunity to work in Beijing during the 2008 Olympics. The Bird’s Nest, the CCTV Headquarters … these were architectural icons that were designed to convey China’s global power. Architecture definitely has an incredibly important part in defining national identity. While there is Moshe Safdie’s iconic Habitat 67 built for the Montreal World’s Fair, for us, Arcade Fire is just as iconic as any particular building here. We respect architecture but we respect it alongside all the other innovative cultural outputs.
Bruce Mau Design is a global branding and design firm with offices in Toronto and New York. Hunter Tura leads a 50-person multi-disciplinary team of graphic designers, architects, writers and managers. Prior to BMD, Tura was the Managing Director of 2x4, Inc.