Friday, April 5, 2013

Mr. Sub plays the Canadian card... harrrd

When I was a kid, Mr. Sub was the go-to submarine sandwich chain in Canada. But when Subway arrived in the late '80s, it very quickly pushed the domestic sandwich shop to a marginal position. Mr. Sub ended up playing by Subway's rules, with fresher bread and more toppings, but it's hard to compete when there's a Subway on practically every block.

Now, they've taken a page from Tim Horton's playbook. With the recent resurgence in (dryly ironic) Canadian patriotism, they're hitching their brand to their Canadian identity:

The one above is the better of the two, because it's how we see ourselves.

The one below shows how we think Americans see us.

This campaign caught the attention of my friends at Adland, where author kidsleepy quipped, "This spot makes fun of Canadians and the Canadian stereotype that they are all polite and orderly. Because they are Canadian."

Damn right, eh? Americans (and other nationalities) are often puzzled by our self-deprecating national pride.

One of my favourite Canadianisms is what I call the "Canadian standoff". It's when two or more Canadians approach a doorway at the same time, and end up delayed because each one insists that they other one goes first.

That's who we are. It's not that we aren't proud of our culture; we really are. But we also think that to take oneself too seriously is tacky. So we express our patriotism by showing the world that we are confident enough to make fun of ourselves.

It's just our way. Sorry.


  1. No need to apologize. Oh wait. Yes there is. You're Canadian. That's what you do. I keed!

    You misunderstood my point, though. It's not that I was interpreting this ad from a standpoint of puzzlement because I don't understand your self-deprecating national pride. This is in fact, a very easy thing to understand.

    No, I was questioning the effectiveness of using a very, very well-worn execution. Hence the reference to the Molson ad, a full decade before. You said as much in your reference to the current Timmy Ho's campaign. That's now three examples. No doubt we can find more. Which is precisely my point.

    Looking at it from an advertising standpoint this execution seems a bit tired.

    I do however, appreciate the ironic xenophobia of suggesting A Subway franchise in Canada, presumably owned by a Canadian, and employing Canadians, is somehow less Canadian than Mr. Sub.

    One of my art directors in Montreal spent his salad days at a graphic design firm. His job? Putting maple leafs on all Mcdonald's packaging.

    Wait. Maybe I don't understand your culture after all.

    1. Good points, all, Sleepy. I wasn't really dissing your analysis as much as the strawman of American perception. As you know, we Canadians are far more concerned with how Americans see us than Americans are concerned with us... in any way.

      The send-ups of Canadian culture are endless. It's not just Timmy's. Pretty much every Canadian brand that appeals to the general public plays up the whole "we get you, eh?" angle. It's used over and over again because it works. When you're a culture struggling to define yourself in the shadow of an extremely similar—but more dominant—one, your quirky differences tend to be a lifelong badge that you wear.

      I have two older brothers, BTW :)

  2. I know there are a lot of books written on the subjective of what exactly is Canadian culture. I like to think too, that one of the biggest and best elements of Canadian culture is the desire to endlessly dissect the meaning of the culture, if that makes sense.

    I know it's hard to separate advertising and culture. There are just as many American cliches when it comes to Advertising, too, if not more so.

    I guess in light of the amount of "we get you, eh?" spots I'm seeing lately. I'm just surprised that ad agencies would want to keep doing them. It may be at the insistence of the clients. My experience working up there was clearly an anomaly.

    I will also freely admit it's a personal bias of mine, that I do not like navel gazing in any form. If that ad were directed toward me, I think my reaciton would be 'of course you get me. You are one of me.

    I just don't want Canada selling itself short. There are a lot, and I mean a lot of amazing ads coming out of Canada that highlight the best parts of the culture. The intelligence. The unexpectedness. And of course, the sense of humor. And I would be remiss if I left out that amazing sense of creepiness that can only be found in ads like this one for Swiss Chalet.

    1. Subject, not subjective. Sheesh. Long week, this.

    2. Indeed it was! And only a 4-day one here. (Easter Monday.)

      Somehow, we all keep enjoying the Canadian clichés. We loved them in Strange Brew and we loved them even more when they were disguised as American clichés in Wayne's World. The "aboot" thing is dumb and tone-deaf, but our other ones are perhaps a bit of a respite from the 99% American nature of our mainstream media consumption.

      By the way, there's a great book that does dissect (and completely destroy) the myth of Canadian niceness:

      One other note, before I return to my cups. Montreal is a very special part of Canada. And not just because it is in Quebec. Even among the anglophones there, it is a very atypical Canadian place. Cooler and more international. Also more insular, in a way.

      I love the place. They spend less time being "not American" and focus on being "MONTREAL! FUCK YEAH!"

    3. MONTREAL FUCK YEAH sorry I got caught up in the chant. #swedesaresheep