Hump Day: Radio-Canada escapes a national branding debacle

Hump DayHump Day
By Brian Cormier
Wednesday, June 12, 2013
Moncton Times & Transcript
Editorial section

Thanks to Radio-Canada’s decision to retreat from its recent rebranding decision to drop Radio-Canada from its brand in favour of just Ici (French for “here”) I now have nothing to write about. Or do I? Let’s at least take a stab at it.

You see, I was going to write this long rant about how it was a horrible idea. Removing Radio-Canada from the French-language national broadcaster’s branding didn’t make any sense to me. In fact, it smacked of a sneaky political agenda undertaken by Quebec nationalists at head office in Montreal who would like nothing better than to see the word Canada disappear from the broadcaster’s branding.

It was a brilliant tactic, really. What better way than to make Canada even more remote from people’s minds in Quebec than to remove it from a part of everyone’s daily life in the province? Get rid of that pesky Canada word that people hear a dozen times per day and their ties to the country will weaken even further than they already have.

Before I go on, let me point out that I’m an avid fan of public broadcasting, including CBC and Radio-Canada. If it were up to me, budget cuts there would be a thing of the past. I’m all in favour of more government support. We’re a huge country bordering on three oceans. Many of our citizens live in remote areas. If it weren’t for public broadcasting, they’d be even more isolated than they already are. And no, trying unsuccessfully to watch television on a dial-up Internet connection isn’t a substitute.

Unfortunately for those who decided to rebrand Radio-Canada when no rebranding was necessary, they forgot about francophones outside Quebec who quite liked hearing, seeing and reading the term Radio-Canada. They didn’t wince. They didn’t feel like throwing up. They didn’t feel like burning a flag. They didn’t feel like separating from the country. They felt connected to the country. They felt pride.

I could almost imagine Pauline Marois, the separatist premier of Quebec, wringing her hands and cackling with evil glee as one more symbol of Canada fell to the wayside in her province. What better way to soften the province’s attachment to Canada even more than by removing the constant barrage of positive branding via Radio-Canada. I’m not normally a conspiracy theorist, but this practically sounds like an evil plot.

Now that this ill-advised branding experiment has been abandoned, heads will most certainly roll among those who cooked up the absurd idea of removing the country’s name from the country’s national broadcaster. What’s next? Rebranding New Brunswick as Ici – Chicken Fricot? Prince Edward Island as Ici – Red Dirt? The United States as Ici – Guns?

I grew up watching Radio-Canada. Hearing “Ici Radio-Canada” was comforting. I knew people in British Columbia, Newfoundland and Labrador, and the Northwest Territories were hearing the same thing. Of course, I mostly watched the kids’ shows. There was Fanfreluche, La Souris Verte, La Ribouldingue, Grujot et Délicat, and Sol et Gobelet. And at suppertime, it was always Bobino. I can still whistle the opening theme.

The emotional attachment to a solid national brand should not be underestimated. Generations of Canadians have grown up with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (affectionately known by drunk people as the Canadian Broadcorping Castration) and Radio-Canada. As children, we watched Mr. Dressup, Chez Hélène, The Friendly Giant. And what about The Beachcombers? Don Messer’s Jubilee? Hockey Night in Canada? Wayne and Shuster? Royal Canadian Air Farce?

What I’m saying here is that there is a very strong and positive emotional attachment to public broadcasting in this country. Can you imagine the BBC in the U.K. removing “British” from their branding? It would be unthinkable. Had the geniuses at Radio-Canada’s head office in Montreal seen fit, they would have probably renamed the BBC as BB Ici or perhaps Ici – Haggis.

Don’t get me wrong. There are a slew of organizations that are in terrible and desperate need of rebranding. But Radio-Canada isn’t one of them. And they certainly didn’t do it, at least in my own humble opinion, for the right reasons.

You see, this was the brilliant (cough!) column that was going to appear on Wednesday and then shock Radio-Canada into changing their minds. Now, I won’t have that chance. I would have been revered as a brilliant expert and awarded the Order of Canada for having saved the country. The Stanley Cup playoffs would have been cancelled and the trophy given to me as a token of appreciation for my nation-building abilities. (I would have had the fanciest bird bath in the neighbourhood, let me tell you!)

Now, we’ll all read about how this backtracking is a great idea and something they’d planned on doing all along. Sure., they never intended to blah blah blah. They were never going to blah blah blah. What would be refreshing and I sincerely hope we hear it, is that they just admit they made a big mistake and move on.

Radio-Canada’s “Ici” was well on its way to becoming another branding disaster like New Coke or Pepsi Clear, horrible mistakes made by those who believed that those strong iconic brands were broken. Radio-Canada executives can at least find solace in the fact that francophone (and I daresay anglophone) Canadians have a deep attachment to their brand. Many corporate executives in the world would love to have that problem.

What you thought was broken proved not to be. You can be grateful for that.

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