How Canadian do Canadian brands need to be?

We spent this past year exploring Canadian brands like Roots, VICE, WestJet, Cirque du Soleil, Cadillac Fairview, TELUS and many more to understand what makes a Canadian brand iconic. We learned a great deal about our country and our brands, and we’re still learning. Here are some top takeaways.

2017 was a big year in Canada. Our 150th anniversary celebration drove a double-digit increase in visitors searching for what makes the country unique. Travel + Leisure magazine named Canada the world’s top tourist destination for 2017, describing Canada as an influential global leader – “a nation defined by tolerance and hope.”

Here at Interbrand we did our own exploration – of Canadian brands. We kicked off the Iconic Canadian Brands report by asking Canadians for the brands they consider iconic. Then we spoke to dozens of brands, conducted media interviews and held two panel discussions with the Lazaridis School of Business and Economics. We learned a great deal about our country and our brands, and we’re still learning.

With that in mind, here are some top takeaways:


  1. There is no single definition of a Canadian company, just like there’s no single definition of a Canadian. If anything, our brands reflect the best ideas that grow out of our many regions. Look at lululemon (yoga culture in the West), Cirque du Soleil (inmagination in Quebec) and WestJet (friendly value from Alberta). Cultural institutions like the CBC and National Film Board aside, our brands reflect the regions and diversity of our wide country.


  1. Traits typically associated with Canadians are also evident in our Iconic Brands. Canadians have been called industrious, warm, caring and reliable. These traits could apply to many of the 150 brands on the list. Tim Hortons, for example, is a brand that has delivered a consistent experience to earn a place in our daily rituals. VICE, on the other hand, has consistently delivered edgy and entertaining content even as it’s evolved from a magazine to website and broadcaster. Another brand told us they differentiate by playing up their Canadian-ness as dependable, family-oriented and sincere – they “care more” than their global competitors.


  1. Flying the Canadian flag doesn’t always make sense for your brand. We all know the stereotypes – cold winters, wildlife, woods and fresh water. If you’re going to use these, make sure they are authentic to your brand and not a force fit. Jim Gabel of Roots Canada emphasizes Canadiana at home but focuses more on “open air” to be relevant to shoppers at Roots stores in Taiwan. Meanwhile, foreign brands operating in Canada must tread cautiously when playing the Canada card; we heard some backlash in this summer’s race to jump on the #Canada150 bandwagon.


  1. Iconic Canadian brands put culture front and centre. The experiences you deliver externally will fall down if your employees aren’t engaged or equipped to live the brand internally. Many brands we spoke with, from TD to MEC to VICE, attribute their strength to an engaged employee base. In the words of Dave Bigioni of Canopy Growth, “Culture is king, but it serves vision and purpose.”


  1. Canadian brands have earned the right to be louder and prouder on the world stage. “We need to celebrate our successes more,” said Jason Anderson of Iconic Canadian Brand Cadillac Fairview. Canada has always waited for outside validation of our arts and culture, and the same is true for brands. The reality is that we don’t give ourselves enough credit. Our growth in the technology and financial sectors are envied the world over, and in today’s environment we should be bolder when telling our own stories.


Click here to download a copy of the Iconic Canadian Brands report.


Vice President, Client Services