Domestic Retailer Plays a ‘Heritage’ Card

You may have sen recent Canadian Tire Corp (CTC) ads that proudly remind us how they’ve been part of Canadian consumers’ lives for generations. The new ads also allude to some of their past ads (incl. an icon ad: sentimental hard-working farmer brings home a hard-won bike for a surprised, appreciative son). Canadian Tire is playing this card because

  • it’s rich territory emotional territory,
  • it’s valid (they HAVE been a key part of most Canuck lives for generations); and
  • the new guy in town, Target, cannot play that card.


This isn’t the first foreign competitor to come here. WalMart came & stayed, but US-based WalMart is a relative newbee versus CTC; they can’t play this card either. So CTC’s ‘Heritage’ ad positioning won’t be copied by other major Hard Goods or Mass Merch banners.

As CTC runs its’ heritage’ media campaign, Home Hardware promotes their connection to Canada’s famous Sick Kids hospital. Home Hardware has run ‘store-owner-is-part-of-your-community’ ads for years; but can’t match CTC’s media weight & may worry CTC will drown out their ad thunder, hence the added mention of their charity role. Smart, in my view.

Result of all of this ‘feel-good’ emotional advertising? Heightening the ‘average’ Canuck consumer’s thoughts on ‘What has this retailer really done for my family & for our community?’

On that criteria, newbee Target starts at zero baseline (despite buying used-to-be-Canadian Zellers’stores).

On that criteria, WalMart’s situation isn’t much better (despite buying Woolco stores when arriving here 20 yrs ago).

What to do, then, as a newbee?

I expect Target to immediately buy, rent, or license the rights to a Canadian Icon to support: the PanAm or Olympic Games teams, the Legion/ Poppy Drive, etc. It’s in Target’s interest to go out there & show they’re in touch with what touches Canadians ie savvy on what’s truly important to Canuck values & hearts.

You can expect WalMart -being WalMart- to respond with what’s very affordable: a bevvy of in-store Canadian maple leaf imagery, a few website specs on how many Canucks they employ, a bit about their (limited) community support programs here.

The struggle for ‘softer-side’ relevance: a tug for Middle Class Canucks’ hearts, will be fervent, as Target launches, WalMart jostles, and grocers (Loblaws, Metro, Sobeys) add to the fray. US-based Best Buy bought out Canadian-based Future Shop a few years ago- that won’t be something they tout!. But Canadian-based furniture & appliance chains -Bad Boy, Leons, The Brick – will likely remind us that they’ve been servicing Canadians, and giving back to communities, for generations.

And in upscale retail? Nordstroms vs The Bay, Holts, Harry Rosen? A different situation. Expect much less focus on ‘Canadianness’. Past studies show Canada’s most educated, affluent citizens have a more global perspective – for good & bad. They care less than Middle Class shoppers about local employment. They’re more accustomed to buying foreign-made- as expected; Canada is home to very few luxury brands (exceptions: Canada Goose, Roots, Lululemon). But don’t ignore another contributor: a Canadian cultural quirk: educated, upscale Canucks have long underplayed their own nation, its goods, achievements. They tend to look down on domestic content. There’s plenty of evidence in the way our own accomplishments are ignored by our media & elite:

  • We let the CIA steal credit for the entire Iran Caper in the movie ‘Argo’; a wildly inaccurate film, whose director & backers were feted by our High Society types on its release here in Toronto.
  • We smeared & humiliated the memory of WWI air ace Billy Bishop with cynical, inaccurate stage plays.
  • We ignore the monumental role Canada played in military strategy with Vimy
  • We ignore Canada’s key role in NASA after redirecting Avro Arrow technology & personnel
  • Our critics initially ripped apart Cirque; saw it succeed in the USA, and THEN decided it must be good.


Our critics, reviewers, journalists, are quick to ignore success, but pounce on Canadian failure. The day after Canada beat Cuba here in Toronto in a CONCACAF soccer qualifier this month, the Globe and The Star gave that story—NOT A WORD. As if it never happened A few days later, the same Canuck squad played in Honduras; they lost & were eliminated from the tournament. Next day that was front page news, in both papers.

Canadian Elite: we eat our young, destroy our heroes, downplay our nation.

We’re blind to the achievements of our fellow Canucks.

Ralph Nader wrote a book on Canuck achievements that helped citizens worldwide. Michael Moore lauds our peaceful multicultural society. What do Ralph Nader & Michael Moore have in common? Neither is Canadian.

It’s just so much more ‘international’ and ‘sophisticated’ to celebrate achievements done elsewhere. This bizarre tendency seems more true of  the Canuck educated / affluent elite than Middle Class Canada. eg on Nov 11th, in small towns across the nation, folks will be out in droves to honour our War Dead and War Heroes.

So, as CTC plays the ‘heritage card’, and other retail players shuffle to be seen as a bit ‘more Canadian’, I wonder if that will truly be as effective, especially amongst Upper Class Canadians, as the ‘heritage card’ would be, in other nations. Time will tell.

Apologizing profusely for this, just in case it’s any good.

Steven Litt

Caution: I’ll not tar all upscale, educated Canucks with an unfavorable brush; many are, in fact, free of anti-Canuck bias. Certainly Canada is NOT a huge market on a global basis, nor a leading military power, so we WANT our elite to be globally aware. I’m just asking that more of that group consider having a bit more of a level playing field in mind, and not just on the soccer field.