Ad Report Card: Molson’s Canadian Nationalism

Several years ago I was visiting Montreal with a friend from my hometown in Texas, and we met a waitress named Melody, who was from Edmonton. She was 19, and never having been to Texas, she offered up what her childhood impression of the place had been: the usual clichés of tumbleweeds, horses, and guns. So, she asked us, what had we, growing up in Texas, thought about Canada? The answer, of course, is that we never thought about Canada at all. Which brings me to this week’s Ad Report Card, on the “I Am Canadian” spot that has generated so much attention for Molson Canadian beer. You can see the ad here, via the Web site, which requires the QuickTime plug-in.

The ad: A casually dressed young man walks to a microphone on a stage in an auditorium. “I’m not a lumberjack or a fur trader,” he begins politely, almost sheepishly. “I don’t live in an igloo or eat blubber or own a dog sled.” Behind him, slides change quickly to illustrate his points. He gradually gets warmed up. “I have a prime minister. Not a president. I speak English and French, not American. And I pronounce it ‘about’ “–he’s sounding a little annoyed now–“not ‘a boot.’ ” A quick close-up of the guy as he turns the corner into full-on nationalist pride: “I believe in peace-keeping, not policing. Diversity, not assimilation. And that the beaver is a truly proud and noble animal. A tuque is a hat!” He’s shouting now, and the music behind him is swelling to a crescendo. “And it is pronounced ‘zed’! Not ‘zee’! ‘Zed’! Canada is the second largest land mass! The first nation of hockey! And the best part of North America! My name is Joe! And I! Am! Canadian!”

It’s a funny spot. And apparently it’s become a phenomenon in Canada, where crowds at hockey games and the like cheer madly when the ad flares across the Jumbotron.

What it’s trying to say: Most fundamentally the ad is saying–and in a funny and good-natured way–that Canada is not boring, bland, and undifferentiated from the United States. To the Canadian viewer, the ad says: Stop being so sheepish about your Canadian-ness! Stand up for yourself! Have a Molson! To the U.S. viewer, the ad pulls up short of actually arguing that Canada is, say, exotic. After all, Canada jokes only work to the extent that the whole idea of making jokes about Canada is itself kind of funny. So what the ad says is that there is more to Canada than meets the eye, and thus … maybe there’s a little more to Molson than meets the eye, hmm? After all it’s not a domestic beer. It’s an import!

But will it sell any Molson? Of course, neither Canada nor Molson are all that different, and that’s what makes the ad’s humor work. This is good news, in a way: The spot ends up being very effective branding for Canadians. But the final message about Molson itself seems a little murkier. It would probably be something along the lines of: I guess it’s like Budweiser, only it’s Canadian. Maybe it would’ve been a good idea to work something about beer into Joe’s rap.

Final Grade: Still, it never hurts a product to be associated with an ad that lots of people love, so give the spot a solid B. At the very least, Molson has given people like me something Canada-centric to talk about with people like Melody: this ad.