Blowing Money on Branding in Canada’s Capital

In my previous blog Branding Canada’s National Capital I discussed the importance of marketing as an important function for governments, particularly cities. I pointed out that in an era in which governments need to be more responsive and accountable to the needs of the public; marketing can help public sector organizations accomplish this goal. With public sector organizations spending significant dollars delivering programs and services, especially in the area of tourism promotion there is a need for increased efficiency, accountability and transparency.

I also pointed out that in recent years many cities and regions have chosen to market themselves in one fashion or another.  Such marketing initiatives characteristically suffer from a lack of creativity and innovation and fail to benefit from the lessons that decades of marketing experience in the private sector have taught managers in business. Such difficulties can be minimized, however, with overall expert marketing oversight and approach.

Finally I discussed the National Capital Commission (NCC) working to develop a catchy yet dignified slogan,  that’s meant to brand the capital region as a source of pride for all Canadians. The slogan according to the article is to be part of a five-year $2.5-million branding and marketing project that the NCC began last year.

2.5 million and you wonder what they came up with . Well here it is .

It’s a city where shouting, insults and arguments are encouraged in the town’s major workplace; where everyone seems to be either watching political TV shows or appearing on them.

On any given day, you might run into a former prime minister at a newsstand, or a foreign dignitary strolling by the canal. And on the nation’s birthday, Canada Day, it’s a city where people paint their faces red and white and pour into the streets by the thousands for a giant party.

But really, in Ottawa, they’re “just like you.”

That’s the brand-new, poll-tested catchphrase chosen to sell Canada’s capital to the rest of the country — and perhaps to itself, too. The National Capital Commission formally approved the slogan at a meeting this week.

“Just like you” beat out a couple of other contenders for the new, national-capital slogan — “the capital of being Canadian” and “where Canadian stories live” didn’t quite cut it. The new slogan is also a bit friendlier than one chosen by the city of Ottawa nearly a decade ago, when it was trying to re-brand itself as a high-tech centre: “technically beautiful.” Then there was a more a recent effort by some city councillors a few years ago to label Ottawa the “city of trees.” Neither tag stuck.

This newest phrase isn’t just for Ottawa alone, but the area on both sides of the Ontario-Quebec border that encompass the National Capital Region. But it’s not just geography; as some NCC directors noted at their meeting this week, the capital is also a state of mind— and now, that’s best described as “just like you.” It’s not about differences or diversity, but where we’re all the same. (Yes we are all the same here in Ottawa)

In polling done for the NCC by the Environics Research Group, “just like you” was deemed most effective “in terms of connecting on a personal level, catching attention and inspiring people,” according to a presentation given to the NCC board of directors on Tuesday.

Sample ads were thrown up on the screen, featuring various scenes with tag lines such as: “Green. Just like you”; “Grateful. Just like you” and, risky, in tourism terms, “Frostbitten. Just like you.” (Ottawa residents sometimes boast that only the Mongolian capital is colder than Canada’s, but actually, Ottawa’s average annual temperature puts it somewhere in the middle of the top 10 of the coldest capital cities in the world, including Moscow, Helsinki and Reykjavik.) Source

NCC chief executive Marie Lemay said the new slogan will be less of a big, bold ad campaign and more of a stealth operation, with “just like you” slipped into everything the capital commission runs. It’s part of an overall, $2.5 million, five-year marketing operation and coming up with the slogan reportedly cost about $100,000.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper will be there, making a speech to thousands of Canadians on Canada day and accompanying the Queen on her rounds. Just like anyone else on Canada Day — “just like you,” you might say.

Once tag lines and logos are finalized, the NCC is to start rolling out the slogan during events such as Canada Day broadcasts and Winterlude.

NCC chief executive Marie Lemay said it would be “integrated in everything.”

“You’ll probably be hearing a lot of ‘Canadian: Just like you’ in the next little while,” Lemay said Tuesday, after the board endorsed the slogan.

The slogan isn’t necessarily meant to draw more visitors to the capital region, but to get the area into minds and hearts and reflect its importance and relevance to all Canadians, the board heard.

(So we are spending 2. 5 million bucks to make us feel good but not to attract visitors to the capital… I am sure the tourism industry will be pleased to hear this.)

“Just like you” and “The Capital of Being Canadian” were found to be equally effective for making the capital feel relevant, showing off its importance and role and reflecting Canadian values.

The other slogan, “Where Canadian stories live,” was found to be “generally less effective in delivering the desired messages to Canadians,” according to the presentation made to the NCC board.

It cost about $102,500 to research, develop and test the concept: $42,500 for consultants’ work with staff, and $60,000 for Environics to conduct market research. Source Also check out the following link

So what has been the reaction so far to this great marketing event :

Kelly McParland comments in the National Post: July 2 2010 states the following

What is it with Ottawa and its desperate need to find a slogan that city poobahs hope will convince Canadians it’s more than just a boring place filled with politicians, bureaucrats and museums?

In a big announcement that almost no one paid attention to, the National Capital Commission revealed on Wednesday that it spent $102,500 coming up with yet another slogan.

Wanna hear it? OK, wait for it … “Just like you”.

Yup, that’s it. Ottawa, just like you.

What’s it mean? God knows. Only a city jammed with civil servants would consider it a good idea to spend $102,500 to “research, develop and test the concept” of a lame-ass slogan like “Just like you.” Apparently it costs that much to discover that people think “Just like you” is catchier than “The Capital of being Canadian” and “Where Canadian stories live”, two other equally lame possibilities that were considered.

Grow up folks. Slogans only work for cities that already have an image in the public imagination. The slogan has to catch that image, it can’t create it. Continually blowing money in the hope that some ad campaign will magically transform boring Ottawa into a sexy tourist destination is just a sign of rampant civic insecurity. And a waste of money, to boot.

Actually, we have to concede that its very meaninglessness makes “Just like you” less lame than the other two painfully earnest and truly astoundingly lame slogans that were apparently in contention, though the mind boggles. So way to go NCC!

From the Citizen

The National Capital Commission has hunted for a short slogan and come up with “Just like you.” While it may succeed on one level, it fails on too many others.

To be fair, that’s not quite the whole slogan. This was supposed to be the tail end of a variety of short summaries of Ottawa and Gatineau. The NCC wants to tell the rest of the country that the capital is, for instance, “Green. Just like you,” and “Canadian. Just like you,” and for winter sports, frostbitten, just like everyone except perhaps Victoria.

Focus groups liked the slogan, so let’s hope it works. It’s a big step up from “Technically Beautiful,” the last ill-fated attempt to brand this city.

“Just like you” plays to one of Ottawa’s strengths, our position as a comfortable place to live. As urban analyst Richard Florida noted in a recent visit here, we appeal to people who want a city with interesting restaurants and good schools and hospitals, but who aren’t willing to pay the price of big-city pressures.

In that sense, “Just like you” aptly conveys Ottawa’s democratic sensibility. Unlike Manhattan or even Toronto, Ottawa isn’t particularly status-obsessed and we don’t have huge extremes of wealth and poverty.

But in playing up the relaxed, Everyman aspect of Ottawa, we risk failing to make the city sound distinctive and exciting. We can’t be the same as everyone else and have a distinct identity at the same time. This is where the new slogan falters. It’s bland. We’re comfortable, yes, but we don’t want to be predictable. Would tourists want to spend money to come here, if all we can promise them is more of what they have already experienced?

Good slogans, pitches and campaigns grab you, and you remember the product even when no one names it directly. Sadly, the NCC’s phrase doesn’t have the energy or the distinctiveness required .

And by the way, is it even true? That is to say, are we really “just like” everyone else? Anyone from the capital region who has travelled in Canada knows that the rest of the country does not see itself as like Ottawa. They see us as a privileged city that takes their tax money and regulates their lives.

Auto workers enduring the recession in south-western Ontario might want to see Ottawa someday and same with western farmers whose fields are too soggy to plant. But to say that we in Ottawa, who thanks to the federal public service enjoy a certain economic stability, are just like them might not be the best approach.

Pretty depressed … wait there is still some hope…

“Hip” Ottawa has awoken from its slumber: report

Ex-pat writer calls nation’s capital ‘lively, smart, quirky’

By Vito Pilieci, The Ottawa Citizen July 12, 2010

What he found was a buzzing food scene, quaint and attractive neighbourhoods on par with New York’s famed “Greenwich Village” and “serious attractions” such as the Royal Canadian Mint, Rideau Hall, Parliament Hill and the Museum of Nature.

While the large institutions impressed, it was the city’s vibrancy that he couldn’t stop raving about.

“They (the institutions) used to be the reason for a visit to Ottawa, with restaurants and shopping an afterthought. These days don’t be surprised if you find the opposite to be true,” he wrote.

Kaminer said he particularly liked two Ottawa restaurants: ZenKitchen, a vegan eatery located at 643 Somerset St. W, which he calls one of Ottawa’s “hottest tables” and the Murray Street Kitchen, located at 110 Murray St., which he called “an aggressively Canadian bistro,” that “epitomizes Ottawa’s new spirit, with serious creative chops.”

He also applauded Ottawa coffee chain Bridgehead, where he claims he had the perfect espresso.

“Larger cities get the glory, but Ottawa’s kitchens might be some of North America’s best kept secrets,” writes Kaminer. “Creativity here arguably rivals that of San Francisco or Chicago, albeit with less ego, zero attitude and gentler prices.”

He then continues to praise the city’s vibrancy by drawing attention to the patchwork of communities that make up the city. During his visit Kaminer travelled to the Glebe, his favourite area which he claims reminded him of Georgetown. He also had high praise for Westboro, Hintonburg and even the Byward Market, “if you avoid touristy strips such as York Street” he states.

The article was being promoted by Ottawa Tourism as positive news for the nation’s capital, which has had a harder time attracting American’s to Ottawa since new travel regulations, requiring all Americans to carry a passport, took effect last year. In the first three months of 2010, the most recent period for which statistics are available, only 22,000 American tourists travelled to Ottawa. During the same time frame more than 138,000 visitors from Ontario and Quebec made the trek to the national capital.

For his part, Kaminer believes Ottawa is being overlooked by tourists. The writer is already planning a second visit to the city in the coming months.

“Ottawa isn’t Toronto or Montreal (nor do I think it wants to be). But it felt lively, smart, quirky and confident: a city waking up to its own potential after many dreary years.” he wrote.

Lively, smart, quirky and confident now that is the type of branding I want to see.

What do you think?

About jimmintz

Managing Partner, CEPSM Jim Mintz is a veteran marketing professional with many years of experience as a practioner and academic. He is presently Managing Partner at CEPSM and Program Director of the “Professional Certificate in Public Sector and Non-Profit Marketing” at Sprott School ... Specialty Areas: Social Marketing, Integrated Marketing Communications, Public Sector and Non Profit Marketing
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3 Comments

  1. ron taylor 13-07-2010

    The reality is most tourism marketing by governments provides the opportunity to send feel good messages……… feel good propaganda for the masses…in particular as elections approach…now municipalities are figuring out the benefits of this approach to communicating to their constinuents. Very often tourism marketing dollars are distributed to those in favour with the existing government. Marketing for events, subsidising existing marketing campaigns etc. From my 30 years of experience in the tourism industry, today’s marketing plans will change dramatically on the election of a new party including the logos and colours of most brands…..

  2. Kim 29-07-2010

    I find it frustrating and disheartening to hear yet again about publicly funded institutions spending heavily on marketing campaigns resulting in less than impressive strategies. (Having worked as a comm/marketing manager in a Crown Corp for twenty years). The underwhelming tag line aside, I must reserve judgement until we see how this plays out. Vito Pilieci’s article hints at a way through from a different vantage point – there’s a great message to send about Ottawa and its hidden (and not so hidden) treasures. On the matter of the objectives of the campaign, I too would like to see a little more emphasis on actually bringing people (and their wallets) to the Nat’l Capital Region.

  3. jimmintz 29-07-2010

    At our Centre we see a tremendous waste of money from governments at all levels in the areas of marketing and communications . Much of this could be avoided if they hired people who had a good grasp of how to develop and execute marketing . For reasons that are a complete mystery to us they tend to hire staff who are not qualified.

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