The words “Made in Canada branding campaign” had hardly dried on the page of federal finance minister Jim Flaherty’s Economic Action Plan last week before marketing experts started taking shots at it…even though they didn’t know what it was about.
They couldn’t know, because the government itself didn’t — all the budget contained was one paragraph in which Flaherty said a private-sector steering committee would be struck to lead a pro-Canada branding campaign, to help drive consumers at home and abroad to Canadian food.
But that lack of detail didn’t stop at two authorities – a crusty metropolitan Canadian university scholar and a dismissive chief bank economist – from telling a reporter consumers are too focused on the bottom line for such flag-waving exercises to work.
Consumers are fixated on cheap food, they say, and Canadian products won’t sell just because they’re dressed in a maple leaf.
Maybe in the bad old days when local food meant little, homegrown campaigns would be a tougher sell.
But things have changed. Almost everyone else I’ve seen and heard lately suggests Made In Canada has pop.
For example, in a report entitled Mapping Your Future Growth, the federal Business Development Bank of Canada goes in a totally opposite direction than its cranky counterparts, calling local one of the top five game-changing trends.
When it comes to food, consumers are all over local, and their definition is broad and liberal.
Sometimes, depending on the commodity, local simply means Canadian. I was in Abu Dhabi recently, and there at the breakfast buffet good old Canadian maple syrup was being served. To me, several time zones away from Canada, that was local.
Local is also associated with certain desirable values, no matter where you’re from – among them, wholesomeness, sustainability, quality, nutrition, fairness and a sense of community.
Will those values sell at home and even abroad? Absolutely. Beyond its borders, Canada has always marketed itself as being green and pristine. It’s our image and it works (oilsands aside).
So why, by modern measures, wouldn’t Made In Canada work?
Even in its embryonic stages, the campaign has traction with farm groups. The Ontario Federation of Agriculture calls it a win for
Canadian agriculture, and claims it will be a boost for farmers.
So I hope you’ll join me in encouraging Ottawa to stay the course. It should be applauded for this initiative, not criticized.
It’s true that this is still not the gold ring farmers were hoping for. Provincially and nationally, they’ve long asked that Canadian products be promoted on more than an ad hoc basis, through a national food strategy or policy. It’s been dangled in front of them for years, but for some reason, it’s just never caught fire.
I can’t explain it – if ever there was a time to unite the country under one food banner, it’s now. But I, and many others, have been saying that for at least a decade, with no luck.
Maybe the problem is that farmers need to take more ownership of a national strategy, campaign or what have you. They could start by naming a champion and dusting off some of the good suggestions for national program that have been put forward over the years. Farmers score high on the credibility scale and it’s reasonable to think a campaign led by them and not just featuring them would resonate.
Beyond national farm organizations, there’s no shortage of places to look for leadership in promoting Canadian food. I’m speaking at noon Monday in Guelph to an organization committed to advancing local food, called Taste Real. The topic: how the media can help advance their cause.
Among other things, I’ll be urging them to take charge, pick up the phone and call journalists with their stories. Those who make the news and those who report it need to develop relationships. Taste Real is already ahead of the curve, with features such as “Find the story behind your food” on its website and a variety of promotions for its 120-plus members.
The best marketers know diligence and presence is key. And that’s one more reason I support Taste of Canada. No single effort is likely to move the needle appreciably on Canadian food uptake. But it can be, and should be, an important cog in a bigger wheel of Canadian food promotion.
Naysayers, take a hike.