Category Archives: Brand Mythology

HBC Tells Canadian Stories Through Inspired Marketing

When Canadians think of 60-second heritage videos about our past, the typical reaction is to either shudder with repulsion or yawn with boredom. It’s not our fault. It’s this very (dark) Canadian history in film that we have painfully engrained in our consciousness.

Unlike our star-spangled friends south of the border, we Canucks never had a “Saving Private Ryan”, “Forrest Gump” or even an “Independance Day” to capture our imaginations and inspire patriotism. We too have a rich history, but Hollywood just doesn’t make films about Frederick Banting and Tommy Douglas. Almost all of our iconic films are comedies, and our commercials often follow suit.

Thankfully, The HBC History Foundation has launched a new series to tell some of Canada’s most adventurous stories.

Feeling less like “Heritage Moments” and more “We The North”, the first spot by Toronto agency Red Urban vividly re-creates Canadian heritage in a way that can resonate with even the most modern, cynical viewers.

Many Canadians likely had no idea who John Rae was, but this 19th century badass has a story that clearly deserves to be told. An interactive history journey has also been created for the “Country of Adventurers” campaign website.

Hudson’s Bay Company may now be owned by American private equity firm NRDC, but its history is unquestionably Canadian. The brand’s roots go back as far back as 1670, including a remarkable claim as the onetime largest landowner in the world.

While its brand image today is in fantastic shape, HBC is more closely associated with the domestic bliss of #stripespotting than its history as North America’s oldest company. This campaign, with national television buys including programs such as the Emmy Awards and MLB Postseason, appeals to viewers’ adventure-seeking attitudes.

Outdoorsman Les Stroud, host of Survivorman, was enlisted because “the best people to tell Canadians about our past adventurers are modern adventurers,” according to Red Urban Creative Director Christina Yu.

Modern-day adventurer Les Stroud tell the story of arctic explorer Dr. John Rae in the first installment of a new campaign for the HBC History Foundation (CNW Group/Hudson's Bay)
Modern-day adventurer Les Stroud tell the story of arctic explorer Dr. John Rae in the first installment of a new campaign for the HBC History Foundation (CNW Group/Hudson’s Bay)

While Hollywood increasingly relies on biopics and adaptations to entertain us, brands should take a page from this book and tell their own stories. The mythology is all there – and often communicated impeccably well to employees – but it’s rare to see the same effort employed in consumer-facing brand campaigns.

As posed by Adam Toren of Entrepreneur, “Stories are what people remember. Even when they forget names and faces, they rarely forget the story and how it made them feel.” We look forward to seeing HBC tell more stories about men (and thankfully, women!) such as David Thompson and Maud Watt as “Country of Adventurers” continues.

Let’s look for more Canadian brands to entertain and endear us with authentic, relevant stories like this. After all, we’ve got plenty to tell – Jose Bautista’s bat flip  has already been immortalized by the CBC in a “Heritage Minute” of its own.


Marketing Players of the Week – Brand Mythology Edition

At the essence of any strong brand is its mythology; the story – partly real and partly perceived – of how it came to be and the characters that shaped its history.

Seth Godin wrote about “brand as mythology” back in 2006, and it has deservedly been embraced as gospel among much of the marketing collective. This week we look at three established brands taking this ideology to heart as they have all recently launched campaigns with brand mythology at the forefront.

Tilley Endurables

Forgive the pun, but Tilley has been hanging its unmistakable hat on an aging community of loyal consumers built over many years. Long overdue for a refresh to appeal to a new generation, the outdoor clothing manufacturer turned to Cundari for a revival.

The 2014 campaign, launching with a YouTube pre-roll video and fresh new ecommerce website,  is the first brand refresh in the Canadian company’s entire history, according to a Marketing Magazine article by Sarah Barmak. The campaign targets a “younger 35–60 demographic without forgetting its older base”.

In “Searching For Don”, a rugged-yet-classy adventurer on a cross-country journey to retrieve a lost treasure. It’s a soulful :90 spot that feels decidedly unbranded, with the protagonist forgoing the classic hat in favour of a subdued flat cap. Also worth noting is the original folk song, which fits perfectly with the plot for this short.

It’s a triumph for the brand to rally against the concept of ‘adventure’, associating their outdoors apparel with the tantalizing prospect of exotic travel and self discovery. Expect to see more from Tilley as they look to make a big splash this summer with their revitalized brand image.

Bacardi Canada

Another brand with strong, historical roots is Bacardi, although their marketing had recently devolved into associations with nightclubs and partying in tropical destinations. Rather than blending in with competing international rum manufacturers, the global Bacardi team is now reinforcing the strength of their brand mythology.

The new “Untameable Since 1862” campaign effectively communicates not only the legacy left by the Bacardi family, but the conflicts that strengthened the brand’s character along the way. With an integrated, flashy website design that deeply outlines the heritage from Cuba, along with a newly launched :60 spot, Bacardi is defining a much more meaningful identity for Canadian millennial men.

This stunning visual creative work for “Procession” by BETC London (produced globally) is being broadcast at Cineplex theatres and will also extend to TV. There are also billboards, using the hashtag #TruePassion, which reflect the integrated message.

In a Marketing Magazine article by Kristin Laird, Nadine Iaccoca (Brand Director, Rums) shared that the Canadian campaign will focus largely on events. While the brand will undoubtably have a strong representation during Caribana, Bacardi will also host a three-day Cuban festival this July in Toronto’s Distillery District. No official word if Kardinal Offishall will be making any cameo appearances, but you can sign me up!


I’ll be the first to acknowledge that Ray-Ban has been dominating the sunglasses industry for several years now, with trendy product design, content marketing, and innovative web solutions such as their virtual mirror. But Oakley is a formidable competitor, and has the deep pockets required to battle back as the crucial summer season begins.

Launching a new campaign focused on their innovative technology and – again – company mythology; Oakley has scored a crucial win by fully defining their niche positioning.  A highly lucrative, desirable niche, to their credit.

It doesn’t focus on travel, fashion, or sex appeal – “Disruptive by Design” is deeply rooted in Oakley’s convergence between form and function in sports eyewear. With a nearly 4-minute YouTube video (“A Story of Disruption”) narrated by the inspiring Kevin Spacey himself, the brand details its history of disruptive technologies that have been developed since 1975.

Its effectiveness is weighed down by an over-reliance on marketing speak and borderline pretentiousness, which may partly explain why it has been viewed under 100,000 times in its first week. But the content succeeds in leaving the viewer with a clear picture of the brand’s unique strengths, and perhaps a better understanding on how much Oakley has impacted since the company’s inception.

Oakley’s CEO Colin Baden is still searching for an agency of record, and desperately needs to cut ties with alleged murderer Oscar Pistorius, but “Disruptive by Design” is a step in the right direction for a brand that must continue moving forward.

Has there been a brand mythology that has resonated with you as not only a consumer but as an evangelist? Leave your example in the comments.