Most Canadians are familiar with the Heritage Minute series, which attempts to illuminate Canadian history for the attention spans of the TV generation (and now for YouTube as well.) It's a reason some people are familiar with figures such as Dr. Wilder Penfield, Agnes Macphail, and the inspiration for Winnie the Pooh. Now, Hudson's Bay Co. is hoping for a similar effect with its own history.
On Sunday during the Emmy Awards broadcast, the company launched a new campaign that it says will run indefinitely: a series of commercials that give glimpses into the history of Canada's oldest company.
Entitled "Country of Adventurers," the campaign is an attempt to connect with Canadians by exploring not just the company's longevity – it was founded on May 2, 1670, nearly two centuries before Confederation – but its link to Canadian history and identity.
It's not the only move Hudson's Bay has made to emphasize its Canadian bona fides: Two years ago, it dropped its old cursive B logo and rebranded. The logo now uses the full Hudson's Bay name instead of The Bay, and includes the company's traditional coat of arms and its founding date.
In recent years the company also has expanded its "signature collection" of products featuring the its heritage designs, such as the stripes.
"We feel it further connects us to the history that began 350 years ago. You're always looking at where you've come from and where you're going," Hudson's Bay president Liz Rodbell said in an interview last week. "Our mission is to celebrate Canada and our heritage."
It's also timed for the lead-up to Canada's 150th anniversary celebrations in 2017. "It's a tremendously exciting time for us," she said.
It's the first ever marketing campaign for the HBC History Foundation, which was established in 1994 when the company donated its archives and artifacts to the Manitoba Museum and the Provincial Archives of Manitoba. The foundation is responsible for maintaining the collections.
The first commercial in the series profiles John Rae, a Scottish doctor and Arctic explorer who learned from the Inuit how to survive in the harsh conditions of Canada's North. He worked for Hudson's Bay for more than two decades starting in 1833, exploring the Northwest Passage and, at one point, finding out about the fate of the Franklin expedition by speaking with Inuit hunters.
In a fitting – and perhaps obligatory – choice for anything touching on Canada's heritage, the first commercial features plenty of snow. Since the shoot happened in August, the crew and representatives from the ad agency rode by helicopter to the Delphine Glacier in B.C. Some of the blowing snow was digitally added.
Hudson's Bay hired Les Stroud, creator of the television series Survivorman, as the on-screen narrator for the first spot. Future instalments will follow a similar method, with modern-day Canadians helping to tell the stories.
In case the clouds rolled in and helicopter travel became impossible, in addition to all the equipment for the shoot, the mini expedition also had tents and sleeping bags to ride out being stranded. Luckily, Canada co-operated this time.
"This one's really epic and big," said Christina Yu, executive creative director at Toronto-based advertising agency Red Urban, which was hired in January by Hudson's Bay specifically for this project. "The next one will be more emotional."
The company has not said how many spots in total will be produced, but this is a long-term project.
"They have a story that they can tell that no other company in Canada can tell," Ms. Yu said.