There is no question that the retailer whose logo is a beaver, has built its image on Canadiana.
Roots Canada Ltd. was born from its American-born founders' love of camping in Algonquin Park and, since then, its advertising has reflected that romanticized view of the country: beautiful people relaxing in golden wheat fields, cuddling in Lake Louise, or paddling down an Algonquin river. In its new ad campaign, however, Roots is looking for a change of scenery.
The ads were all shot on a recent trip to Taiwan. The campaign, which will begin rolling out this month, represents the first time the retailer has made a point of highlighting a country other than Canada in its marketing.
There is a strategic reason for the shift: Roots, whose founders sold a majority stake to a private equity firm in October, has set its sights on international expansion. The company now has more stores in Asia than it does in North America – there are 109 in Canada, five in the United States, and 130 in Asia. Its most established market there is Taiwan, where Roots has sold its wares for 20 years and has expanded to 107 stores. The number of stores in Asia has tripled since 2010.
Part of the rationale for the sale to Searchlight Capital Partners LP – in addition to a succession plan for its founders – was to invest in expanding the brand's international presence. In January, Searchlight founding partners Erol Uzumeri and Eric Zinterhofer travelled to Taiwan and China with Roots founders Michael Budman and Don Green to survey the market. China, which currently has 23 Roots stores, will be the next focus for growth.
The advertising is meant to buttress a more global personality for the brand.
"I think we have something to offer the world," Mr. Budman said in an interview.
The campaign will run in Taiwan, to celebrate the stores' 20th anniversary there, but will also run globally, including in Canada. Roots began teasing early images on its Instagram last week. In Toronto, outdoor ads will begin appearing on March 22, followed by digital ads and store displays across the country.
"So many people think of Roots as their local, homegrown brand, and they maybe don't realize that we've grown up and are quite successful globally," said James Connell, vice-president of marketing. Other companies, such as Lululemon Athletica Inc. and Canada Goose Inc., have certainly found that there is marketing cachet among Canadians when they learn a domestic brand has earned a global following. "We want Canadians to be proud of the fact that here is this brand that they've supported for all these years, and we've found an international audience," he said.
But the ads won't just be promoting Roots. The campaign is also a co-marketing partnership for Taiwan's tourism board, which contributed to the marketing cost, and also helped Roots with location scouting and giving them access to certain sites to shoot, including the 279-year-old Mengjia Longshan Temple in Taipei.
This is a model Roots has used before, working with provincial and municipal tourism boards to promote various locations in Canada. For example, its holiday campaign this year was done in partnership with the Banff & Lake Louise Tourism Authority. But it has never expanded those tourism partnerships outside Canada before now.
The new campaign, with the tagline "Roots ♥ Taiwan," will feature both Canadian and Taiwanese models – some of them celebrities, such as a television host Anthony Guo, as well as others who are well-known on social media there, such as a mom blogger and her son, Mark. They were photographed in some of the places they recommend to visitors; Mr. Guo, for example, chose a favourite bistro.
Taiwan is hoping to appeal to Canadian visitors but, more especially, to the Chinese market, where the ads will also run. And, as the tourism board uses the images to promote the country as a vacation destination, Roots merchandise will receive additional advertising reach.
While Roots has shot ad campaigns outside Canada, it's rare – Mr. Connell recalls only one in the past 20 years, when the team travelled to Jamaica in search of warm weather for a spring campaign – and has never actively highlighted locations outside Canada.
"The mockups [for ads and store displays] that we're developing now, the word Taiwan is similar in size to our own brand," Mr. Connell said. "It's something that might make people [in Canada] do a double-take, and start to question the overall campaign and want to learn more, hopefully. … I flew 15 hours from Toronto to Taipei, and you see a bit of Canada on almost every corner … people that have 'Canada' on their chest walking down the street."
This week, the company announced it had hired Jim Gabel as its president and chief executive officer. Mr. Gabel, former president of Adidas in Canada and Reebok in North America, was touted in the announcement for his experience overseeing global brands.
"The brand will always be something that is born in Canada, and really grown out of Canada," Mr. Connell said. "But there are global aspects of the Canadian identity that are welcome worldwide."