Wealth of nations

WealthHere’s a nice little anthropological/economics puzzle.  Why is it that some nations should be prolific brand creators and others, as Jon Stewart would say, "not so much"?

I refer in particular to the fact that Canada doesn’t appear to have a clue in this regard.  The answer is not size or wealth or education.  Otherwise, there would be no such thing as Nokia.

Of the top brands, 62 are from the US, 38 are from various other countries, and zero are from Canada (the US has eight of the top ten spots). This is the seventh year Interbrand has produced the ranking and the seventh year Canadian brands have been absent.

All speculation is welcome.  I will offer my own in a subsequent post.   A hint: Margaret Atwood.


Swystun, Jerry.  2004.  Branding in Canada.  Interbrand/Brandchannel.com here.

13 thoughts on “Wealth of nations

  1. Anonymous

    There are two types of people in English Canada: those who like and accept American cultural things, and those who dislike and reject them. The former are more numerous than the latter, who tend to be left-wing.

    1. As for the former, their creativity is drowned out by the flood of American rubbish we get more of than anyone else in the world.

    2. As for the latter, being left, they tend not to be thrilled with commerce, so don’t use their creativity to create brand names.

    [tangents for point 2]
    2a. Since you mention Margaret Atwood, then it could be that we’re so busy trying to survive against the flood (or shut it out) that we don’t have the energy to be creative.

    2b. We’re too busy trying to be the antithesis of the Americans, which means not being loud brand leaders. Maybe if we lived next door to the Swiss…

  2. Adriano

    Imagine big breasts filled with milk(USA) and a suckling baby(Canada) what would you do? I would just sit back and enjoy.

  3. Grant

    Anonymous, right on the mark, I think. Thanks, Grant

    Adriano, the other way of seeing it, to be sure.” Thanks, Grant

    LK, not quite a brand, but certainly an innovation. And this would make an interesting investigation on its own. Thanks, Grant

  4. LK

    actually i was thinking about it and maybe canada is best at anti-brands (no logo, adbusters etc) because canadians have a tendency to define themselves in terms of the ‘other’ (ie the US). would you really not consider “jack” a brand? or “bob” or whatever other names it goes by?

  5. jef

    Might have something to do with the fact that many canadians work for american companies in canada (or canadian companies owned by american ones), and that many many canadian companies are eventually bought by large american corporations. ‘Tim horton’s’ and ‘Molson Canadian’ are huge brands in Canada (and they pound into us just how canadian they are), now owned by American corporations. Our ‘own’ brands are not even owned by Canadian corporations. If any thing ever gets that popular, it’s bound to be bought up by some american behemoth. Doesn’t seem so mysterious t’me.

    adriano: sucking on that big american tittie is alright now and again, usually tho it makes one vomit. Must be laced with somthing…

  6. Peter

    Apparently, a Canadian newspaper once held a competition to find the Canadian equivalent of the phrase:

    “As American as motherhood and apple pie.”

    The winning entry was:

    “As Canadian as . . . possible, under the circumstances.”

  7. Jim Dingwall

    Grant – There are several profitable lines of inquiry on this question.

    First, Canadians possess a commodity mindset. It’s genetic. We export a lot of commodities — rocks, trees, wheat, oil, etc. –but nothing branded except the occasional mad cow. Commodities are bulk goods and by definition anti-brand – they are generic, “no-name” raw materials sold almost exclusively on price and volume– their value-added identity comes much later in the hands of someone else. That’s the Canadian way.

    We live in a highly parochial, “made in Canada” culture. Few local brands are designed to travel abroad. Indeed, it’s amazing how many of Canada’s top brands and institutions rely on Canadian references in their corporate names as a basic identity fix. Canadian Tire, Molson’s Canadian and all of our major banks come immediately to mind. In so far as Canada has no notable reputation for manufacturing or service excellence, a Canadian moniker is hardly a unique global selling proposition. So, from a marketing perspective, many of Canada’s high profile brands can’t venture outside of Canada without a name change that pretty well kills their brand identity. For example most Canadian banks go by meaningless acronyms in the United States – BMO/Harris, CIBC World Markets, RBC Financial, and TD Waterhouse.

    Interbrand’s top ranking brands possess distinct visual identities. Close your eyes and you can immediately picture the Golden Arches, the Nike swoop, the exact type font and precise blue of IBM, the shape of a Coke bottle and the Coca-Cola script, Disney’s magic mouse and Mercedes’ hood ornament. Quickly now, pick two of Canada’s top brands — Tim Horton’s and Canadian Tire — and try to visualize their logos. I rest my case. A world-renowned brand needs a distinct visual identity and recognition in the marketplace. Unfortunately, Canadians possess a dismal visual sense. Maybe it’s because our lives are dominated by vast unchanging vistas of snow, endless prairie fields of canola and barren grey granite landscapes. We lack the ability to give any Canadian product a dynamic and unique visual identity.

    The only successful Canadian brand I can think of in the international marketplace is our beloved national police force: the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. How ironic. Canada, the self-styled kinder, gentler nation gets top-of-mind recognition for an armed law enforcement officer in a red tunic and Boy Scout hat. It should come as no surprise that the RCMP sold the rights to use the Mountie image to ……wait for it …..The Disney Corporation.

  8. Barry Ritholtz

    “Not so much,” as far as TV is concerned, was popularized by comedian Paul Reiser in both his stand up and on his show “Mad About You.”

    Stewart appropriated Reiser’s verbal tic and made it a hip pop culture reference — not that there’s anything wrong with that . . .

  9. jim linnane

    The US has imported a lot of comedians and actors from Canada. The comedians don’t do Canadian jokes, and the actors don’t play Canadians. They have an ability to see America as both insiders and outsiders and to love it and dislike it at the same time. In other words, the Canadian entertainer who is popular in the US gives us America as it truly is, and depends on not being seen as Canadian. Wasn’t Bill Shatner’s Captain James T. Kirk of Iowa the perfect American? The successful Canadian brand would have to have the same attributes. In the old mass manufacturing economy the NHL was a successful brand because it gave regimented US factory workers an escape into personal violence and graceful artistry. How is it that Don Cherry, that fan of NHL violence, can be a popular super-patriot for a country that has a world-wide reputation as being a wimp?

  10. Ed

    Grant, as usual, your comment threads are better than most blogs.

    Jim Dingwall, why aren’t you blogging? There should be a URL behind your name, not an email address!

    Barry Ritholz, thanks for the props to Reiser. He was Scottie Pippen to Seinfeld’s Michael Jordan in the ’90s, and with smart people like Grant attributing his schtick to (the increasingly self-righteous) Jon Stewart, Reiser’s impending erasure is sadly assured. Yes, he tended toward the mawkish, and “Mad About You” was ultimately just another sitcom, but he deserves better than elision–hey, even Pippen was damn good.

  11. Grant

    Barry, thanks very much for that clarification. I should know that and I am happy you did. Best, Grant

    Ed, I agree there is lots of talent at work in the comments field, and it routinely puts me to shame. As it turns out, Jim Dingwall is an old Toronto friend of mine and yes I have badgered him more than once to take up blogging. No luck. Thanks, Grant

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