Off-Topic: Canadian Olympic Ads edition
I was supposed to write about this totally bad-assed cold remedy cocktail that I made for myself tonight, except for a few things:
- I’m not entirely sure that it’s a responsible thing to do, because of the things I’m mixing together and how they may cause excessive liver problems
- I have already tried it, and am therefore experiencing severe brain problems
- The Canada-Russia hockey game is on as I write this, and it’s actually illegal* here not to watch it.
*N.B. Not actually illegal, but culturally unacceptable. If I turned up to work tomorrow and did not talk about the hockey game, it’s entirely possible you would find me in the gutter out back.
But what this does give me the opportunity to do, as I soak in the glowing enthusiasm of our national sport, is talk about a couple of Olympic ads that are typical of my country: one from Tim Hortons, and one a horrible musical earworm that will haunt you always.
1. Tim Hortons
For those of you who aren’t aware, Tim Hortons has bonded itself with the Canadian identity more thoroughly than beer, hockey and national self-deprecation combined. People refer to it (cringe-inducingly) as “Timmy’s”, they will line-up in shopping malls for twenty or thirty minutes for a cup of their coffee, and they will regard you with pathos if you don’t understand why it’s so wonderful.
Except, good God, it is not. The coffee is terrible, their own franchisees have sued them over being forced to sell microwave-defrosted donuts, and the service in most locations is horrifying beyond belief — made worse from the fact that unlike every other business in the country, they accept only cash and one kind of credit card. You know how many Canadians use their debit cards to buy everything? 60%. You know how many Tim Hortons accept debit? 0%.
But, apologists say, why would they bother when all they sell is coffee and donuts? Why wouldn’t you just bring cash with you, when you know how it works? Why don’t you just let Tim Hortons tell you, the customer, how you may be permitted to do business with them? It’s Tim Hortons! Don’t you talk about them that way! THEY’RE TRUE CANADIAN I BET YOU LIKE STARBUCKS YOU WANNABE YANKEE TRUE PATRIOT LOVE, LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT BABY!
(EDITED TO ADD: As many have noted in the comments, the no-debit-Mastercard-only policy apparently extends only to Tim Hortons in Ontario. But I’m fine with sticking with this complaint rather than the serial service model — by which I mean, the cashier will fetch your coffee, return, then fetch your donut, return, then prepare your second coffee order rather than take your entire order at once — or the overall shitty attitude of most employees, because I’m sure someone will assure me that THEIR local store isn’t ANYTHING like that.)
How did Tim Hortons accomplish this? Through masterful brand-building, community outreach, and advertising that never fails to hit just the right note with its audience. Here’s the ad that has Canada sniffing into the back of their hand over every commercial break, this Olympics:
Aw! I don’t even have anything cynical to say about that.
Which, in turn gets you to think, hey, maybe Tim Hortons isn’t all that bad, even if I have to take out a $20 before I go there and wait forever and sometimes (most times) they get my order wrong and the donuts look sort of like sun-dried turds these days. Think of that fella and his family! That’s heartwarming! That’s GOOD CANADA right there!
So what if it doesn’t actually have anything to do with the product? What’s important is that it’s connected to our national identity so profoundly. Buy it because it’s Canadian, not because it’s good or anything. You like Canada, don’t you? Tim Hortons is super-Canadian! It’s synonymous with Canada! Not liking Tim Hortons is like spurning the nation of Canada itself! And that’s why you had better just get the hell in line and hope you remembered to bring cash with you to the airport.
It’s a masterstroke of branding, to immediately skate people past the product itself and right on into the values of an entire country. But branding is all it is, a very deliberate maneuver to no longer compete on beverages or food — Canadian-ness is Tim Hortons’ product here, which gets up my nose more than even the debit card thing ever could.
2. Source Yogurt
This is Celleste. You haven’t heard of her before, because she’s so new on the scene that her MySpace page doesn’t even have any music on it yet. But she’s from Quebec, she’s bilingual and she’s got a good voice, so how better to kick off her career than with a catchy commercial?
Because of our two official languages, Canadian advertisers will often save a buck by hiring a cast that can do their script in both languages. The sets, costumes, and basic storyboards can then all stay the same, and the product can get advertised nationwide. But oh, the vicissitudes of translation.
Let’s watch it in her native French:
Cute, right? The whole “diamonds are a girl’s best friend” thing with yogurt, which is ridiculous but generally pretty harmless. My French isn’t great, but that doesn’t sound like too huge a stretch all around.
And now, the English:
This will get into your brain and eat your thoughts. It has been aired ten thousand times in the last two weeks here, all over the place but particularly on the secondary Olympics stations. Every commercial break, “Mel-un TREE-OHH!” Every cut away to the news, I strain to hear, “With thirty-sevuuhhhhsssss!”
That’s what you love? Why? WHAT IS A SEVUHHHHH, WOMAN, I MUST KNOW! Will your yogurt tell me? If I eat some will I gain thirty… of… them too?
The thing is, this ad is so typically, entirely Canadian that I can’t fault it. I love the goofy song that’s shoehorned into two languages and doesn’t work in either, I love the use of an aspiring Quebecois singer instead of an actual celebrity, I love that someone thought it was a good idea to do a glamorous Marilyn Monroe dance number about diet yogurt.
Tina and I will actually sing this horrible, sticky song to each other as a form of torture. She hears it bubbling up the stairs while I’m on the treadmill, and will dance around to it. I will hear it echoing down the hallway and immediately turn on a fan or something to drown it out before it gets in my head. Such is its repetitive power. Fear it, for someday it may have you too.
Please don’t get me wrong — I don’t think this is great advertising by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s unique among the ads it runs against: as lame as it is, this is an ad that belongs to a long tradition of gawky, chintzy, bilingually-awkward commercials that we grew up with. Among a bunch of ads forcing how Canadian they are on me, it’s all the more refreshing when you see one that just… is.
But, for God’s sake, maybe not every commercial break, eh?