When Radio-Canada, the French equivalent of the CBC, announced it was rebranding itself as Ici, some anglophone commentators were quick to accuse the organization of having deliberately erased the word "Canada" in some kind of separatist plot.
They were wrong. There was no politics involved in this decision. What was actually behind it was worse, though: plain stupidity, mixed with a pathetic attempt to be hip – in the words of Louis Lalande, vice-president of the French services, "flexible, febrile, quick, innovative, better attuned to our audience."
Oddly, the "audience" Mr. Lalande was referring to is the one that doesn't exist, especially the young people who never tune in to Radio-Canada. The marketing geniuses behind the initiative didn't seem to realize that the lure was doomed to fail since there was no plan to change the programming.
The two marketing firms hired by Radio-Canada at a cost of $400,000 (this, after the corporation cut 1,400 jobs over four years in the French service and cancelled its only international public-affairs television program for budgetary reasons) thought that Radio-Canada sounded "old." And old it is, since the corporation has been an irreplaceable asset to French Canada for 77 years – this is precisely what makes it a golden brand with international recognition. Publicly owned broadcasters around the world, from the British Broadcasting Corp. to France Télévisions, are identified by the name of the country.
Lise Ravary, a columnist for Le Journal de Montréal, spent part of her career as a senior media executive supervising the successful rebranding of magazines, such as enRoute, Chatelaine, Elle Canada and their French equivalents.
"The first rule of rebranding is that you never sacrifice the DNA of the brand and rare are the brands that are defined by an adverb," she wrote on her blog. "Second rule: You check the meaning of each key word; contrary to what some focus groups argued, 'radio' is not obsolete; it comes from 'radius,' which evokes the concept of radiance and diffusion. Third rule: Never leave the final decision to focus groups and pollsters. You should also verify how the new logo would fit in various contexts and languages. If the CBC or CNN quotes 'a report from Eye-See-Eye,' people will think they refer to 'Imperial Chemical Industries.' "
The rebranding was a miserable flop. It met a huge barrage of criticism, from Heritage Minister James Moore to the Radio-Canada communications union, and sparked an endless stream of jokes.
The corporation brass, embarrassed and ridiculed, finally devised an awkward compromise that will only make things more confusing. There will be three different sets of logos. For instance, the TV network will be called Ici Radio-Canada Télé, the website will be called radio-canada.ca, and seven other platforms, as well as regional stations, will be identified as "Ici."
This sad story raises doubts about the leadership of CBC president Hubert Lacroix, who kept mum during the controversy before coming out to blame Radio-Canada's communications department for the "confusion." Mr. Lacroix, who is French Canadian, certainly knew about the rebranding plans. Did he approve them? If not, why didn't he put his foot down?
Meanwhile, the new marketing campaign is in full bloom, with pictures of beautiful and athletic people, all under 30, and slogans that turn Radio-Canada into a summer camp: "Ici, we're happy!"… "Ici, everything is possible!"… "Ici, everything is allowed!"
Yes, indeed, everything is allowed at Radio-Canada – even the most abject contempt for the institution and its loyal audience.