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:

  1. 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
  2. I have already tried it, and am therefore experiencing severe brain problems
  3. 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?

  • Kris

    Decoding the lyrics to Canadian yogurt ads is just the kind of project that appeals to my insomnia. After some googling and learning she’s singing “melon trio” instead of something about a melon tree, I have also learned that she’s saying “30 flavors” (Despite hearing her say “thirty sevennnns!” and wondering why a random number seemed to make her so cheerful.)

    I think “sevuhhhhs” is better, personally. And now…I have to watch it again. Insidious.

  • Veronica B.

    Heehee… of the best parts of living in Upstate NY and getting CTV and CBC is the crazy commercials. I will say it’s been great to not be shoehorned into NBC’s maddening coverage.

  • Erica

    I have heard that Source ad twelve billion times, and that “thirty sevuuuuuuhs” never, ever penetrated. That’s horrifying. Maybe it’s a by-product of living so close to Quebec — I’m used to weird French-English hybrids?

    (“Strawberry chantilleeee” is the line that leaps out and smacks me in the head)

  • Tara

    What I love is that “Timmy’s” missed the opportunity to really grab us by our Canadian cojones, and have the dude order a double-double. Someone in the ad agency must have fallen asleep at the wheel on that one.

    I myself don’t mind either of these commercials. What is really starting to drive me nuts are those stupid trumpets (bugels?) that bleet out the opening salvo to that stupid song the radio won’t stop playing. You know, the commercial jingle that is supposed to make us believe in you and I? The one that they’ve turned into some kind of song that they’re pretending is a legitimate artistic endeavour by a legitimate recording artist?

    Blarg. When is the hockey final on so the Olympics can be over? I’m sick of staying up till midnight to watch people compete in sports I don’t care about.

  • Hellcat13

    Chris asked me the other day “Is that Taylor Swift?” I mocked him mercilessly. It cracked me up at the thought of her doing a Canadian yogurt commercial. (and thank you for spelling it yogurt. Yoghurt? Yogourt? WTF is that all about?)

    I’m partial to the Lemon Meringue, Strawberry Chantilleeeeeeeeee line, too.

  • Kristie

    I have none of these commercials, but I did cry like a little bitch at the Tim Horton’s commercial just now. And I don’t even really get it. Is he from Kenya or something, and had to go save up money to import the rest of his family? And had his children never seen snow? Because if I were a good Kenyan, I’d be righteously pissed off if I got to my “new home” and found out that not ONLY did it not have safari animals, but it ALSO had ice falling from the sky. Still, tearjerker.

  • cayenne

    I admit that when I first saw that yogurt ad, I poked the cat & said “it’s Mitsou!” [hangs head] Cat was unimpressed, too.

    Re TH: The irony is that the ultimate tearjerker Tim Horton’s ad, this one (“Proud Fathers”):

    was produced while it was still owned by Wendy’s (1995-2009). All that Canadian imagery – exploited by an American company! The deceit of it all! (Just like their “coffee”, a.k.a. boiling hot water with brown crayon…no wonder everyone orders double-double)

    And while on the topic of annoying Olympic ads & earworms: a) I wish Bombardier had shot more than one spot. That torch-related one was cute during the opening ceremonies, but by day 14, I’m ready to chuck something heavy through the TV; b) “I Believe” – and all its samples & trumpet-y fanfares – is evil should be banned forevermore for fear of hellfire (missiles, that is- no religion here).

  • Kristie


  • emc

    Oh my GOD, the yogurt commercial! It’s driving me crazy. It took me a while to figure out that she was singing ’30 flavors’, too, but the part that makes me want to club something is ‘strawberry shintilly’. Argh. She can’t even say chantilly! It’s a French word! What the hell?

    This is all the fault of CTV. They’re the absolute worst for commercial overload. Before this one, it was that horrible ‘skin tag’ remover. “You mean that little flap of skin? It’s a skin tag!” – They’d play it at every single break after 11:00 pm and I almost had to give up The Daily Show because of the constant gagging. Or those insterstitial blurbs they do when they’re trying to sell CD’s, so you get 3 seconds of a Lionel Ritchie or Jonas Bros. song stuck in your head. Pure, pure evil.

    I know it’s like a slap in the face of Canada, but I hate Tim Horton’s and avoid the hell out of it. Debit machines are everywhere on the Prairies, so that’s not an issue. It’s the customer service, and the fact that I don’t drink coffee, and that in the wintertime the floor mats in front of the doors are gushy and gritty and wetter than the Everglades. So disgusting.

  • Erin

    As an Ontarian, I too thought that 0% of Timmy’s took debit… until I went out to Nova Scotia. There, those forward thinking Easterners do have debit in their Timmy Hos. We are so behind…

  • Marcel

    C’mon the worst by far is that Molson Canadian ad where there is a bunch of guys running, skating, diving in the flying V formation talking about how Beer is made from Canada. It’s a nonstop barrage of Canadian cliches (what no igloos?). Ever since Molson was sold to Coors they have lost all touch with Canadians.

  • Janet

    Timmy’s in BC have debit as do the ones in Alberta….

  • roberta

    all the tim hortons in Vancouver, Abbotsford, maple Ridge, pitt Meadows take debit.
    Don’t know what you’re talking about only cash.

  • Marti

    I watched more TV in two weeks of Olympics than I had in the previous ten years. And see what great ads I missed. I heard some scurrilous gossip about La Yanofsky who sang the ghastly “Believe” song. She is apparently a righteous little madam who yells “Door!” if someone doesn’t hustle and yank one open for her.
    So she only looks like Snow White…
    As to the US-Canada hockey game, yeah. As an American in Vancouver, I wanted to go shopping because a) living up to the sterotype I really don’t care much about hockey and b) the streets would be empty and I could go anywhere in Vancouver in two minutes instead of slow crawls across bridges.
    Instead I had to watch the ONLY game in town with my Rah Rah Canada daughter and her Rah Rah Canada pal so I tortured them by yelling “U-S-A! U-S-A!” They screamed at me as if it was my fault when the US team tied.
    Still, it’s nice that Canada won. It means that it would be safe for me to walk outside my house and not be ripped asunder by ravening hordes of Canadians. Also Canadians invented the game so it’s like, more meaningful.
    My brother in the States figured his home team, the San Jose Sharks, being mainly Canadians REALLY won that game! (San Hoser Sharks?)
    Tim Horton’s? Don’t get me started. And someone told me Molson’s bought Coors, not the other way around. Can it be?

  • Pingback: Make Your Own Yogurt | Choosy Beggars()

  • sam

    Strawberry Chantilly:

    1 cup all-purpose flour
    1/4 cup packed brown sugar
    1/2 cup butter
    1/2 cup chopped walnuts
    2 egg whites
    1 cup white sugar
    2 cups fresh strawberries
    1 cup heavy cream
    1 teaspoon lemon juice

    1.Mix flour, sugar and butter until crumbly. Add walnuts. NOTE: If you use frozen strawberries, use 2/3 cup sugar and 10 ounces frozen strawberries.
    2.Place 2/3 of the mixture in 9 x 13 inch baking dish and bake at 300 degrees F (150 degrees C) for 20 minutes.
    3.In large deep bowl, stir together egg whites, sugar, strawberries and lemon juice. Whip with electric mixer at high speed for 10 minutes.
    4.In another mixing bowl, whip whipping cream until stiff and fold into strawberry mixture. Spread over crumb mixture in baking dish. Sprinkle with remaining crumb mixture. Freeze for 6 hours or overnight before serving.

  • Lina

    Where can I find that Tim Horton’s commercial? it says I can’t watch it from this site, and for some reason I really want to see it. I looked on youtube, but still couldn’t find it, what should I search?