Canada's Summer-Themed Campaign Misses Its Mark, But Visit Anyway. Trust Me.

Over the years, I've had the amazing fortune to spend portions of my summers in Canada. Won over by the low-key vibe and high-culture diversions, I've always tried to sell it to those who would be inclined to go the water-park route instead: "Dude, the heat is a non-factor, the natural landscapes are pristine and if you need emergency surgery, they'll pick up the entire tab and give you a sexy-nurse escort to the border." If there are nicer places on this or any other planet to visit during the summer, I haven't made their acquaintance.

Alas, my lobbying is usually met with skepticism that borders on derision. People just don't get it, binding Canada to the tuque/Mountie/hockey/"abooot" stereotypes of decades past. It doesn't help that Rush usually tours sheds in the US during the height of summer-concert season, depriving the country of one of its most awesome natural resources.

That's probably why we have a pair of criss-crossing video campaigns promoting Canada as a summer destination, one focusing on Ottawa and the other on the nation as a whole. (Separately, can you imagine a single ad campaign promoting the United States as a unified entity? "Whether it's a heartland meth epidemic you're looking for or emotional and intellectual illiteracy down Mississippi way, the U.S. of F'in A is number one for summer fun!," etc.) The campaigns take a progressive approach, downplaying the usual tourism tropes (shots of scenic vistas, innocuous-looking white people enjoying waterside drinks at dusk) in favor of quick cuts and left-of-center humor.



In this instance, it's a huge mistake. Not that I'm in the business of telling world superpowers what to do, but Canada doesn't need to play up its quirk or attempt to lure visitors with the Ottawa video's graphic flourishes. What it needs to do is smack cliché-swallowing Americans about the torso: "Look what's here! And it's not all that far away! Heck to Betsy, you people can't seriously be considering the Mall of America instead?" Truly, Canada needs to highlight its natural beauty and play up the unpretentious cosmopolitanism of Toronto, Montreal and especially Vancouver in a most straightforward manner. That doesn't appear to be all that challenging an assignment, frankly; there's plenty of wonderful raw material with which to operate.

Instead, the good people at Ottawa's tourism ministry pulled some kid out of Commercial Direction 101 and charged him with the impossible: Making a 12-great-things-to-do list visually and rhetorically compelling. He/she doubles-down on the manic-percussive background music and overlays huge numbers on the screen - lest viewers forget that they're in the midst of a counting exercise - but in the process makes Ottawa look like any other city desperate for tourism dollars. If you can't find a better way to tout your extensive network of recreational pathways than by referring to them as an "extensive network of recreational pathways," you've lost before you've even begun.

The nation-boosting "Canada For Fun" campaign, on the other hand, is too clever for its own good. It includes two attitudinally simpatico components: One in which a "funny" guy acts "funny" in a range of different settings, mimicking Kattan-era "Saturday Night Live" bits for good and timely measure; and another in which Eric McCormack hangs out in what appears to be a vacant office hallway and just kind of raps about his native land. Neither approach makes a whole lot of sense for a vacation destination. The "funny" guy more or less mocks everything he's supposed to be promoting, while McCormack's deadpan doesn't gel with the more heartfelt aspects of his testimony. Major props oughta be sent his way for the primer on the pronunciation of "Newfoundland," though (it's "NOO-fun-land" NOT "noo-FOUND-LAND").

I dig the tone of the "Canada For Fun" web site, which plays off the country's image with stealthy wit ("If you don't mind us suggesting, and we hope you don't, you may enjoy some of these videos... we're sorry, that's as polite as we can be"). But that kind of easy parody should've been confined to the site copy, rather than been allowed to infest the video. Put this one down as an opportunity missed – and book your Canadian vacation anyway. Thank me later.

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