'Canadianness' and Acceptance

This year Canada celebrates its 150 anniversary and it seems fitting to begin 2017 with a blog dedicated to exploring objects and imagery that speak to ‘acceptance’ as a value in our series focussing on Canadianness.

In a world where the focus too often seems to be more on what divides us than what brings us together, the value of acceptance, that of welcoming ideas, beliefs, cultures and practices different from our own is precious. World events of the past year underscore this.

In studies exploring Canadianness images like the one above of the little monkey stroking the dove are offered up as an entry point to the ‘story;’ of what it means to be Canadian. Cultural diversity is considered a strength and Canada is depicted as a cultural mosaic and not a melting pot.  

In storytelling conversations with New Canadians, the vastness of the Canadian landscape and the diversity of the geography were considered to be physical representations of Canadianness.   Like the open, vast country, the people are characterized as open and tolerant, embracing and accepting diverse cultures.

In another exploration, a ‘loving cup’ was introduced as an object that evoked the value of acceptance and the idea that Canadianness means effortless imbibing or drinking from the cup of cultural diversity.

While Canada can genuinely claim to be a beacon of tolerance, the words of an RBC CEO ring so true for the year ahead.   ‘Simply having diversity is interesting; doing something with it is powerful’  That is our wish as we celebrate the past 150 and anticipate the year 2017.    

'Canadianness' and Pride

Next year, Canada will be celebrating its 150th birthday and many brands will try to capitalize on the heightened feelings of national pride. Over the years our work has explored objects and images that evoke metaphors of identity and which give insight into ‘Canadianness’ relevant for brand building.

We have had people share stories of themselves through objects they selected as important to them. In one case it was a young man’s canoe paddle.  It helped him describe Canadianness.  The paddle spoke to his great love of the outdoors, the pristine lakes and rivers that he retreated to regularly to connect with the Canadian wilderness and himself.  His story revolved around the discovery of a great land, which he saw as synonymous with Mother Nature and her nurturing of his own hero journey of self discovery.  

This young man’s narrative, evoked by his paddle, is thematic and emerges time and again.  Nature, the expansive and pristine landscape of this country represents the value of ‘freedom’ that drives Canadian pride across demographic groups.  This country’s beautiful landscape represents physical, emotional and psychological freedom necessary for nurturing possibilities and potential. While the objects introduced differ from person to person:  a beautifully rendered Haida eagle tattoo, a river rock, a photograph of the Rocky Mountains, the shared value of freedom emerges and its manifestation as a source of pride.

It is because of this work using evocative objects and metaphoric imagery that we were not surprised by the findings of the latest Havas Prosumer Report. ‘Pride and Prejudice: Shifting Mindsets in an Age of Uncertainty’ suggests that Canada was one of the few countries where its values at 69% and not its history or culture, are the top drivers of pride. It is consistent with our exploration of ‘how customers think’ and reaffirms that values and their associated emotions are the unconscious drivers of behaviour.

In the best selling book, ‘Art as Therapy’, authors Alain de Botton and John Armstrong discuss the important role that objects play in communicating our identities to the world.  “We don’t just like art objects. We are also, in the case of certain prized examples, a bit like them. They are the media through which we come to know ourselves, and let others know more of what we are really about.“

Next we will explore objects and imagery that deal with ‘acceptance’, another Canadian value that drives pride.


'Canadianness' and Branding

The 150th anniversary of Canada on July 1, 2017 is prompting the 'Canadianness' question for some brand builders.    The Hudson’s Bay ‘Country of Adventurers’ is one example of a lead up campaign.   To stimulate 'Canadianness' in brand building, are posting a series of blogs featuring objects that tell Canada stories.   In our work uncovering human stories, we have found objects to be profoundly evocative tools for exploration. They often serve as metaphors for lived experience and can help access unconscious thoughts and feelings.

This inaugural blog in the series, takes inspiration from the self-described ‘junk yard artist’, Patrick Amiot.   His recycled solar powered carousel www.youtube.com/watch?v=r5aZPPrPIlc commissioned for the city of Markham, evokes feelings and stories about Canadians and Canada.

The renowned artist and his collaborator, Brigitte Laurent, are known for creating whimsical sculptures that connect to their roots as Quebecois artists and Canadians.  Hockey and its players, coureurs de bois in their canoes, Mounties, moose and beavers are among the Canadian symbols that have been represented and reinvented through their art.  A humble, self-deprecating sense of humour, which we think of as typically Canadian, is always evident in the work and immediately puts smiles on viewers’ faces as it invites them into the story.

Amiot has the instincts of an anthropologist intent on teasing out the stories told by the objects or artifacts. Instead of focusing on the instrumental value of his found objects, Amiot focuses on their narrative value. To quote the artist, “ the whole purpose of my work is to glorify these objects, because they have their own spirit. This hubcap, or whatever piece of metal, from the day it was manufactured until now, has an important history. … these things lived incredible lives. If they could talk to you, they could tell amazing stories.”

Just as ‘The Pride of Canada’, a carousel made from metals collected across the country shares Canada’s story with Markham’s new immigrant community, so does the tattoo that a young man shows to help us understand his story of how it feels to be Canadian. Look for that story and more in our next blog on evocative objects of 'Canadianness'.


Pictures TELL AND TALK to reveal the unspoken

Pictures TALK when people are asked to answer a question by choosing an image. They often speak more compellingly than words.  We know they evoke stronger affective responses than verbal processing and we know when motivations are activated they become infused with feeling.   As a result, getting people to answer questions with pictures facilitates deeper motivational and emotional understanding.   Like the art therapist, we can tap into the unconscious mind for nonverbal symbols and metaphors. The selection of the picture is itself a discovery of insight and meaning.

In a recent survey, we presented respondents with an array of five emotionally rich images and asked them to pick the one that most closely aligns with their philosophy of life. Within seconds of reading the question, each respondent picked ‘their’ image and revealed implicitly something important about what makes them tick.   The picture TALKS to us and helps us understand the human being and their values for motivational segmentation.

Overlaying these motivational segments with basic demographic data yielded some interesting intersections.  For example, ‘freedom seekers’ were more likely to be suburban than urban.   The ‘people people’ crossed genders and age.   The ‘achievement people’ skewed to higher incomes.

Pictures are used every day in social media to TELL. Consumers increasingly curate their lives with images and minimal verbal descriptions. It is the pictures themselves that carry the meaning.   Mining and analyzing images as a means of understanding what consumers are expressing about their thoughts,  their lives, their brand affiliations and ‘whole selves’ is key. Images and what they TELL is one of the critical frontiers for machine learning and a big topic of discussion at July’s ‘Sentiment Analysis Symposium’ in NYC.

Pictures both TALK and TELL and it is the marketers who pay attention to the images selected and shared who will access the deeper emotional and motivational understanding of their customers needed to seize the day.  

3 ways to use Sensory Metaphors

We use them all the time…. someone or something is ‘cool’, works at a ‘feverish pace’, someone has an ‘icy stare’, gives a ‘warm reception’, is ‘frozen with fear’ or has a ‘heated debate’.   Metaphors are about understanding one thing in terms of another.   Sensory metaphors are tied to the physical world.   The mind’s eye comparisons they make are intuitive and implicit and can help brand builders do the following:

#1.  ‘Shine light’ on emotional insights…Sensory metaphors access people’s intuitive and implicit perceptions of a category or a brand.   They can be uncovered in an open-ended exploration by asking customers such questions as ‘ What does the category smell like? ‘   For example, a category that smells both of fresh air and of burnt food, revealing the duality of unlimited possibilities along with restrictive usage parameters.  Or sensory metaphors could be assessed on a rating scale of spicy to bland. Where does your brand fit on that scale?   It may be described as somewhere between spicy pad thai and bland tofu suggesting that it has an exciting upside but an experience which is perceived as mundane.   Ask your customers about their perceived sensations and you will develop deep insight into their feelings for category or brand.

#2.  ‘Wave a magic wand’ for innovation…Those intuitive and implicit associations and cues of sensory metaphors can inspire innovation thinking, design and decision-making.    In fragrance or in flavor you can decode the sensory experience to drive product innovation.    For example, your strategy might be centered on the flavor spaces of indulgence or health or the exotic.     To innovate in one of these strategic terrains you could explore the many sensory dimensions of flavor including texture, smell, temperature and colour.  You could develop an understanding of the emotional connection of the flavor and the emotional reward of the taste experience.   From there you could springboard to ingredients, formulas, formats and packaging of new products.  It’s worth looking to sensory intelligence for your sensory innovation.

#3.  Increase ‘message stickiness’ …as an example, a reference to a cold person rather than an unfriendly person is proven to be more memorable.   The work of Berger and Akpinar ‘Drivers of cultural success: the case of sensory metaphors’ has demonstrated that sensory metaphors are more effective than literal language.  They cause us to create pictures in our mind that evoke emotions, add thoughts and ultimately deepen both understanding and recall.


A great example of the opposite is a study that looked at ‘the bleak landscape of biomedical texts’. The authors of that study conjectured that ‘ reading such texts is similar to the effect of a long journey through a colourless flat terrain devoid of prominent features: a numbing of the senses’.  The study determined that numbing of the senses also numbed the mind thereby impeding comprehension.

 The opportunity for brand builders is to take the abstract concept of ‘brand’ and translate it into concrete sensory-grounded symbols that can be efficiently processed by our brains.