Cancon is boring. It’s low-quality and parochial. It is propped up by regulatory support, but no one really wants to watch it.
These are some of the associations that Canadians often have with the idea of Canadian content – and for the industry, it’s a significant branding problem.
On Sunday night, as stars walk the red carpet before the Academy Awards in Los Angeles, a new advertising campaign will launch in an attempt to change those perceptions. By pointing to high-wattage stars such as Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams, Canadian produced video-game hits such as Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, the Canadian directors of Blade Runner 2049 and Dallas Buyers Club, and more, the hope is to rebrand Cancon as a source of pride and the kind of work that has impact beyond our borders.
The campaign is paid for by the Canada Media Fund (CMF), which provides financing for television and digital media projects through mandatory contributions from TV providers. But its scope reaches far beyond what is considered Cancon for the purposes of that regulatory system. It showcases homegrown successes such as Letterkenny and Schitt’s Creek, as well as stars who found their success by leaving Canada, and Canadian-made visual effects and production design behind the blockbusters. It also highlights projects that employ Canadian crews – and are able to earn some tax credits along the way – but would not qualify as being Canadian enough to merit the funding that organizations such as the CMF and Telefilm mete out.
“I think that Cancon has become a dirty word,” said Bart Given, managing director of Torque Strategies, which worked on the campaign. “What we’re trying to do is educate, and celebrate the great content that’s being created in Canada, and by Canadians around the world. Let’s broaden the definition of Canadian content.”
The campaign will introduce a new logo – the word “made” in block letters (“nous” in French) with part of a maple leaf shape cutting into one of the letters. On ads such as transit posters and social-media postings, the logo will be overlaid on stills from movies such as Deadpool, which stars Ryan Reynolds, and Arrival, which was directed by Denis Villeneuve. The new brand’s website will feature a map of Canada with information about where various creative projects have been produced, as well as trivia such as Reynolds’s favourite doughnut shop. The TV ads, which will run nationally in the coming months, are voiced by Canadian actors Christopher Plummer in English and Karine Vanasse in French.
The campaign is intended to be a long-running branding effort. Over time, the team is considering selling merchandise such as T-shirts with the “made” logo – a few of these have already been sent around the industry – and is hoping to recruit high-profile “ambassadors” to promote Canadian content.
“When I grew up ... people would say, ‘That’s so bad it must be Canadian.’ We have a hangover of that. We think [Cancon] is broccoli – you watch it not because it’s good but because it’s good for you. Nothing could be further from the truth,” said CMF president and chief executive Valerie Creighton.
Partly, the campaign is intended to bolster the industry, both as a pitch for more investment and as a way encourage young talent to consider it as a viable career choice, Creighton said. She pointed to creative industries as an important source of diversification for Canada’s economy, as all-important manufacturing and resource sectors have faced challenges.
Film and television production generated 171,700 full-time-equivalent jobs and contributed $12-billion in gross domestic product in the fiscal year ended March 30, 2017, according to industry group the Canadian Media Producers Association.
“For a number of years, we’ve been looking at what are the things we can do as an industry to put Canada on the map, both globally and at home,” said Sandra Cunningham, president and co-founder of Toronto-based production company Strada Films. “We want to focus on marketing our Canadian content and making our talent attractive to return to, and also make our own companies globally competitive.”
Another goal of the campaign is to encourage Canadians to seek out Canadian productions. The ads are launching against the backdrop of an ongoing legislative review of Canada’s Broadcasting Act, which has instigated a widespread conversation about the goals of the regulatory system particularly in television, and more broadly about what the funding of Canadian content should or could look like in the future. The campaign was already in development before the review was announced and is not tied to that process, Ms. Creighton said. But it does address some of the issues highlighted in submissions to the panel from industry players, such as the question of “discoverability” of Canadian content. As more viewers are consuming media online and through non-Canadian streaming services, concerns have been raised about how they will find Canadian shows and movies. And as viewers migrate away from traditional television subscriptions, the funding model that has supported some of those productions is in jeopardy.
“Canada’s a small country. One of the challenges will be how we ensure we can keep making domestic content and make it visible," Creighton said. "This campaign will help to drive people to look for successful Canadian stories.”