Consumer Insights

'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 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'.


Looking at Millennial Metaphors#4: Affiliation

Millennials are considered to be the most connected generation with technology and social media supporting their need for affiliation.  The CONNECTION metaphor speaks to this desire to belong and helps to explain the deep metaphor’s status as one of the ‘giant’ universals.

Millennials have grown up in the ‘thumbs up’ culture of Facebook. It is in the digital village of social media that they have learned the power of sharing ‘likes’ and ‘dislikes’ with others. They are an empowered generation of consumers who are quick to publicly ‘shame’ brands and organizations online when they do not deliver on their promises and praise those who exceed expectations.

Using the power of the connection metaphor as a catalyst for brand building is a wise move for those wanting to create deep relationships with millennials. A wonderful example of this comes to us from Sweden and the not-for-profit world of blood donor services.  The brand builder recognized millennials’ desire to ‘belong’ and affiliate with a worthy cause, giving blood.  Armed with a deep understanding of affiliation as it relates to their organization, they designed a unique donor experience. Specifically, the organization created a community in which the act of donating is directly connected to the saving of a life. They do this by texting donors every time the blood they give is transfused, acknowledging that because of their generous donation a life has been saved. This ‘thumbs up’ turns donors into acknowledged heroes and helps to strengthen the bonds between the organization, donors and the cause.  It is a community of giving powered by leveraging the connection metaphor in which donor relationships with the organization and cause is deepened with every text sent.

Growing up in a digital village millennials are a generation that are expanding and shaping the meaning of connection.  They continuously interrupt activities using social media to reach out to affiliate, friend, like or share.  In doing so they are turning the experience of disruption into an experience of connection. How might exploring the nature of connection among millennials help you strengthen your organization brand’s relationship with this important cohort?



In the physical workplace, most of us agree that two heads are better than one. In fact, bringing different perspectives or ways of thinking to the same problem is considered invaluable in business and rightly so. Yet all too often brand, corporate reputation and customer experience are all viewed through a singular lens, the lens of the company’s good intentions. As a result this single perspective, the company’s, drives the allocation of resources.

The best way to ensure that the impact of brand, reputation and customer experience initiatives are greater than the sum of their parts, is to focus on the intersection between the three: more specifically, the experiences and perceptions of customers. This means moving beyond the lens of the company’s good intentions, to how customers both want to feel and do feel in their experiences with the company and its’ brands.

Bringing the customer’s perspective to the road of business growth takes courage. It means moving away from traditional research which tends to confirm existing hypotheses and the voice of the marketer, to more innovative techniques such as metaphor elicitation that give voice to the customer.

The best way to ensure the impact of brand, reputation and customer experience is greater than the sum of their parts is to commit to a program of exploration and feedback that taps into the intersection of conscious and unconscious minds of customers. It requires moving to metaphor based methodologies in which customers are given the chance to create pictures of what matters to them, whether or not the emotions, ideas and motivations which those pictures reveal are on to the list of what the company ‘knows’ or wants to hear about. Research designed to explore in this way will provide the company with the perspective or headlights needed to navigate the road of business growth fuelled by brand, reputation and experience insights that truly amplify the voice of the customer.