Being fearless about the cultural impact Canada has had on the world
Director, Insights and Analytics | Co-Lead, Diversity and Inclusion
There may be no time in history in which Canada has had more influence on the global community than now. It is seen as a beacon for progressive values around the world, consistently ranking in the top 10 for Gross National Happiness (GNH) and recently ranked #2 by US News and World Report for best country in the world. As a result, many global citizens have asked: how can we be more like Canada?
Several aspects of Canadian society have over the years contributed to the Canada “cool” factor. On the surface, they may seem trivial, but their effects have been profound. This article will focus on three specific contributions of the country over the last decade or so, and how they can serve as inspiration when bringing Canadian products and services to the international stage. They are music, gender expression and artificial intelligence.
Arguably, the most dominant form of Canadian influence in the contemporary world is music. Led by artists from the Greater Toronto Area, Canadian musicians have made the 21st century Toronto Sound – moody, emotional, and nocturnal – the sound of the global pop charts.
And who are they? The Weeknd’s initial three mixtapes can be considered the foundation of the modern alternative R&B movement, which not only has impacted the sound of a generation but has also led to atypical lyrical explorations for the genre, liberating a myriad of songwriters across the world to be more open and honest with their emotions.
Grimes has challenged what constitutes a pop song, especially from a production perspective. There have been very few female producers, but by being the sole producer in the room, she has influenced women around the world to express themselves not only through vocals and words, but also sonically as well.
For another example, look at Azari & III, a short-lived project featuring Dinamo Azari, Alixander III, Fritz Helder and Starving Yet Full. While the project consisted only of one self-titled album, it rejuvenated the house music scene globally and influenced a new generation of house artists, who were inspired by the production style, summed up in their words as “We don’t really let machines control us, we control the machines.”
The 2010s were also a decade that saw a redefinition of gender identity. While the decade began firmly in the territory of male/female heteronormative dichotomy, by the end of the decade our collective understanding had expanded. Now when we think of gender, we include people who identify as genderqueer, non-binary, transgender, or something completely different.
A Canadian couple played a pivotal role in pushing forward this freedom of gender expression and the value of cultural pluralism. In 2011, Kathy Witterick and David Stocker made a bold choice not to reveal the gender of their third child, Storm. They chose not to raise a girl or boy, but a genderless child. The couple faced an avalanche of criticism, but they powered through, leading to global conversations regarding gender and the impact it has on people’s psychological well-being.
Their tenacity led to major provincial and national victories as Ontario passed Bill 33 in 2012 and the Federal Government passed Bill C-16 in 2016, making both gender expression and gendered identity protected by law. While the international community was watching all this play out in Canada, it also saw major changes elsewhere, whether it was at macro governmental levels, such as the United Nations, or through the American Psychiatric Association declassifying being transgender as a disorder.
By the end of the decade, a simple non-reveal in a neighbourhood in a Canadian city had helped catalyze a movement that was eventually embraced by a plethora of citizens, governments, and organizations. Whether it be Sam Smith identifying as non-binary, the changing pronouns we use to describe ourselves, or the popularity of shows such as Pose, Canadians helped launch a conversation that made the world rethink things that were considered sacrosanct.
With artificial intelligence, all the rage in the world and its direct impact on society is being felt through the adoption of things like voice recognition, image search, and predictive medicine.
Modern artificial intelligence has its roots in Canada, when Geoffrey Hinton took a position at University of Toronto and Google, and showed the world how artificial intelligence could impact us on so many levels, and especially through the exploration of deep learning and neural networks. Today, Toronto is home to the largest number of AI start-ups in the world, while Canada hosts major campuses for international corporations like Uber and NVIDIA.
Whether it is the help we receive when ordering our groceries online, the chatbot we interact with to deal with a customer service issue, or the human interaction we have to prevent a bad in-store customer experience, Canada has helped pave the way for brands to rethink CX for the next decade.
What does this mean for brands? People around the world clearly see the value of Canadian ideas, and many want to emulate them. And when our products and services enter markets outside of Canada, they come with the advantage of the connection to these ideas that are desired by so many.
CEOs, CMOs, and brand managers should never be fearful of sending their products and services into the broader global world. Canadian brands have positive semiotic influences at play that already place them in a strong position.
More importantly, as our brands venture beyond our borders, they not only contribute to our GNH and GDP, but also continue to give hope and optimism to the rest of the world.