The cover of The Economist magazine’s annual year-end issue, printed in December 2010, features a cleverly designed mosaic of pictures from newsmakers around the world. Images of the U.S., the UK, and China are prominent. There are photos of Nicholas Sarkozy, Hillary Clinton, Angela Merkel, and Vladimir Putin. The President of Chile smiles on the cover.
There are pictures of wind turbines, a graphic of global population growth, and an Olympic athlete. Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard is featured, as is the New Zealand rugby team.
Even Jamie Oliver is on the cover
Even celebrity chef Jamie Oliver gets his picture on the cover. The largest and most prominent photo is reserved for the biggest news maker of all: U.S. President Barrack Obama.
Opening the issue, there are 166 pages of news, opinion pieces, and forecasts from countries around the world. And in this special year-end issue, Canada merits only one single page of mention. That’s the same amount of ink received by other countries like Cuba, Ghana, and Croatia.
Canada is, by The Economist’s yearend issue anyway, invisible. Unimportant. Virtually irrelevant. On par with Croatia.
Granted, The Economist is just a magazine. What they say (or don’t say) about Canada is perhaps not all that significant. It is admittedly anecdotal evidence of Canada’s relative standing within the international community. But it is evidence nonetheless. And it doesn’t stop with The Economist.
Scan BBC World News website and you’ll be hard pressed to find any news about Canada, while smaller countries such as Norway, Australia, Switzerland, and South Africa would be regularly featured more prominently.
Despite being in the top 10 largest global stock exchanges in terms of capitalization, Canada’s TSX is never reported on the business tickers of CNN, the BBC, MSNBC, or any other global media outlet – while much smaller exchanges in New Zealand and Sweden are.
While other smaller or less developed economies are able to leverage their country’s identity to market products, Canada has none. Global consumers identify IKEA with Sweden, Corona with Mexico, Nokia with Finland, and LEGO with Denmark. As author Andrea Mandell-Campbell asks in her book Why Mexicans Don’t Drink Moslon, how is it that Mexcio – a country not known for barley or fresh water—has been able to parlay its brand of beer into the 4th largest in the world? Canadian beer brands, however, are nowhere to be seen in the global beer market.
In the underground stations around London, UK, huge billboards advertise Blackberry’s handheld devices. But does it register for a second on the minds of British commuters: “Those Canadians really do design great cell phones.” Hardly. The attention Canadian clothing designer Roots received during the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic Games seems to have been an anomaly – and a fairly short-lived one at that. Canada’s global brand identity is non-existent. Why is it that for a country of nearly 35 million people and an economy still comfortably within the top 10 or 15 in the world, Canada commands such little international attention?
Some may question why this matters. Who cares if no one knows Blackberry is a Canadian company? So what if The Economist or the BBC don’t talk about us much? What does it matter if no one around the world thinks much about Canada?
Exposure is everything
The truth is it does matter. In a small and shrinking global economy, exposure is everything. We are in a fierce competition not only for marketing our cars, lumber and oil, but also for scarce international capital. We compete for international students and artists looking for universities, and selecting those countries with some “buzz.” We compete for global tourists seeking modern, cosmopolitan cities with great art and culture. We compete for business people looking for great, new market opportunities.
Are global capital managers, students, artists, tourists, and entrepreneurs thinking about Canada? They won’t be if we are invisible on the global stage.
But international attention needs to be earned, not demanded. Canadians will get noticed if they start doing interesting, creative, and innovative things – and not being shy about being Canadian. We can be world leaders in any number of industries: finance, renewable energy, industrial design, medicine. We just have to want to do it. It’s not just a pride issue, it’s an economic issue.