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Toronto Star

February 17, 2002

Hiding the C-word

When it comes to doing business in the U.S., the name Canada seems to lack a certain cachet

OCANADA, our home and native brand.

Sure, we're proud to say, "I Am Canadian," even for the sake of selling beer. But more and more, true patriot love is taking a backseat among Canadian companies trying to make a name for themselves in the United States.

Corporate Canada is downright initial itchy. Bell Canada is BCE. Canadian Pacific Railway is CP Rail. Ditto CN. CP Hotels is now Fairmont Hotels.

And while the big banks continue to grow, their names are strangely shrinking: CIBC (Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce), RBC (Royal Bank of Canada) and BMO (Bank of Montreal).

They say it makes doing business outside the country easier, but skeptical observers are starting to wonder: What's the shame in our country name?

"Contrary to what we think, the word Canada is a negative in the U.S.," says veteran logo designer Chris Yaneff.

"Americans are so proud of anything American, especially now (post-Sept. 11)."

Yaneff, who changed Brewer's Retail to The Beer Store and named the Square One Shopping Plaza, had to watch the giant CT logo he designed taken down from atop Toronto's Canada Trust tower after TD Bank's takeover.

"The rule is to avoid Canada and definitely avoid any foreign (French) reference in a name," Yaneff says.

"If you're selling perfume and you're a French company, it may be a different story. But when you're dealing with business people, I would avoid it entirely."

He thinks it's only a matter of time before TD's retail arm – renamed TD Canada Trust, now using just the distinctive green TD colour – will drop Canada from its name.

But TD says people shouldn't read anything sinister into a name change.

"We're going to keep that name until sometime into the distant future," says Chris Armstrong, TD's executive vice-president of marketing.

"I mean, I don't think you can ever predict what will happen. Someday there will probably be bank mergers in Canada and then I don't know whose names are going to be on the buildings."

"For better or worse, when Americans think of Canada, we don't think of a place. We think of adjectives like cold, northern, snow, igloos and hockey hooligans."

Jay Jurisich, California branding consultant

The name game in recent years touches on a constant sore spot for Canadians: that our neighbours to the south still don't know (or care) much about anything Canadian, and don't trust "Canada" as a symbol of worth in the business world.

"They just think of snow, north and hockey when they think of us," notes Greg Yaneff, who works with his father in the design and branding business.

Yaneff International has done several surveys for clients seeking to expand their businesses south of the border, and the message is always the same.

"We're just not thought of as a business nation," says Greg Yaneff. "The U.S. market is pretty internalized."

Steve Manning, managing director of the Sausalito, Calif.-based branding firm A Hundred Monkeys [now Managing Director of Igor], says it all depends on what a company is trying to sell.

For example, Canada Dry ginger ale and Clearly Canadian bottled water are great because of the positive Canadian images they conjure, making it attractive to retain the country moniker.

"There's a lot of ambiguity and ambivalence about Canadian culture and what it means to be Canadian – not just here but in Canada, too," Manning says.

"Our news here is so focused that I don't think anyone here has a clue as to what's going on in Canada."

Even Molson's popular "I Am Canadian" ad campaign wasn't played as big in California as Fosters' similar ads about what it means to be Australian, which were seen daily on west-coast TV screens, Manning says.

His company doesn't tend to use country names when branding a new business, leaning more toward the catchy and the comical, such as All Thumbs for home repair videos and Cruel World for a career placement service.

"For better or worse, when Americans think of Canada, we don't think of a place," says Manning's colleague, Jay Jurisich [now Creative Director of Igor]. "We think of adjectives like cold, northern, snow, igloos and hockey hooligans."

He says most companies should steer clear of using the Canadian name because it has a provincial ring to it.

The Royal Bank, the latest to take some heat for taking the name-shrinking path, defends its decision to change its image, including removing the crown – and the negative connotation of ties to the monarchy – from its familiar lion logo.

"We were never trying to distance ourselves from Canada," says bank spokesperson David Moorcroft. "If we didn't want to use the word Canada, we would have just called it RB Financial Group.

"But putting the full name, Royal Bank of Canada, in front of another (U.S.) company was too clumsy, too cumbersome.

"We just wanted to go to initials like IBM went to initials, and like so many other companies do when they want to operate in more than one country and need a shortened version of their name."

So the bank's personal banking arm in the United States is RBC Centura Bank, while its full-service brokerage is RBC Dain Rauscher and its corporate investment banking worldwide goes by RBC Capital Markets.

"I don't see this as sort of a tidal wave in which the industry is being swept up," says TD's Armstrong.

"The CIBC has been CIBC for 50 years and TD has been TD for a long time. The Royal probably thought long and hard about this (name change) because people call them the Royal. It probably will take a long time for this thing to grow roots with customers."

If anything, companies are shrinking their names to initials as a way to "leave the past behind" and expand their business, he says.

As for a corporate plot to try to eliminate anything Canadian from a brand, Armstrong adds: "I wouldn't have any comment on that. I happen to be a dual citizen and I love 'em both."

Some observers suggest that Canadian firms are just being realistic.

"Americans are very jingoistic, so many Canadian companies like to assume the American identity when they're down south," says Joseph D'Cruz, a professor of strategic management at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management.

"It's not so much that the Canadian moniker is not appealing. It's more of a bias in favour of domestic (U.S.) companies," he says. "There is a very strong emphasis on buying American, especially after 9-11, but it was also there before.

"Most (U.S. businesses) are blissfully ignorant about Canadian companies anyhow, so it's therefore rational for them to play down their Canadian identity."

Canada fares a bit better internationally.

"When I associate something with Switzerland or Germany or Japan, I tend to think of that as (having) quality," says Toronto designer Burton Kramer.

"I'm sure (other countries) think Canadian maple syrup and bacon are swell, but I don't know that it works for other products.

"In every country, there are over a million goods and services with the name of that country.

"But more and more, they're moving away from using it. They don't want to be seen as a provincial, local organization. They want to be seen as a global concern."

Royal Bank's Moorcroft says Canada has a very good reputation for financial services in international circles.

"You think of Canada as being politically safe and neutral in terms of most world disputes, and a lot of people like to deal with a financial institution in a country that is stable and where their money is going to be safe," he says.

"So the name Canada is a big advantage for us in international markets.

"In the States, it's probably neutral."

Further reading:

Fortune – Identity next