Having spent over 20 years in the UK’s marketing and advertising industry, I was intrigued by what I would find in Canada.
If I am honest, my decision to move to Toronto was as much to do with my family and I as it was with the sector.
I’ve been through Brexit and the ugliness that was stirred up by those looking to exit the European Union, all of which seemed to cause a re-awakening of negative nationalism, worse still, outright bigotry and racism.
I’ve been on the receiving end of institutional homophobia whilst being a parent governor of my children’s school. I had a growing feeling of “what next” and “is this it?” There just seemed to be a “perfect storm” of thoughts and feelings that made an international move seem the right thing to do.
Don’t get me wrong, there are so many amazing things about London and the UK, the history, the drive, the creativity, the possibilities and people, including my family and friends.
But the Trudeau effect is very powerful for a gay man with a husband and two mixed-race, adopted children. I had visited Toronto once before and could see how remarkable a city it was. The vibe I really soaked up is the Canadian ownership of diversity and inclusion. It is so much more part of your make up than it is with us Brits.
I am aware of the need to do more, especially in redressing and addressing issues for Canada’s indigenous population but the difference between the UK and Canada is everywhere and so important for me.
Whether it be during the Canada 150 celebrations, or what was discussed in the last New Year’s Eve broadcast, or the performers in Nathan Phillips Square for the Christmas Tree lighting, the narrative about inclusivity has been everywhere. Add to this the messaging by brands on TV commercials, online, billboards or in subway stations, and I feel wrapped in a blanket of diversity.
The “A Place to Stand” campaign by the Ontario government is something that I keep going back to. In part because of the brilliant work by the agency John St. but also because I keep wondering how long it would be before a campaign like that would be rolled out in the UK. Sadly, I can’t see it happening there anytime soon.
Then there are the memorable “Eat Together” ads, again by John St., for President’s Choice that heartily showcase diversity again. I may have just arrived at the right time in this great country, with the Canada 150 celebrations prompting this sort of advertising, but the focus is all on celebrating diversity, serving to positively recharge my cynical, cold British heart.
I reflect on the fact that many of my former London colleagues gave a cheer for Toronto, a cheer for Canada, in finding out about my decision for move here, but they said nothing about the Canadian marketing and advertising industry. Indeed some tilted their heads and implied that it was a step down in industry terms to be moving here. If I’m honest I’m not sure I disagreed.
However, having been here for 20 months now I can say with full certainty that Canada has it, we can deliver strategy and creative like the best of them, just look at our record haul of Cannes Lions this year.
What Canada can do better than anywhere, though, is diversity and inclusivity in communications. It’s part of Canada’s DNA, our thinking and our being. So, I say to any brand anywhere in the world, as you’re pushing agencies in other cities for better diversity in your ads, don’t bother, bring the work to Canada, we’re open for your business.
And Canada, thank you from my family and I, you’re amazing. And to the Canadian marketing and ad industry: let’s take over the world.
Advertising feature produced by ICA. The Globe and Mail was not involved.