How to spot a home-grown image
Canada wants a glamorous image. The CNR wants a streamlined one. Banks want friendly ones. Politicians want dynamic ones. Everybody wants a new one. Here is the first field guide to the images you now meet every day
FOR YEARS AMERICAN TOURISTS who came to Canada half-expected to see snow, moose, bad roads, restaurants decorated with dangling flypaper, and Mounties. Four years ago an advertising agency employed by the federal department of travel decided this “image” of Canada was keeping comfort-loving tourists away. The agency set about changing Canada’s image. Canadian girls began to smile out of advertisements in American magazines, wearing less bathing suit and more allure than ever before. One such Canadian girl, in a bikini, provoked a letter from a Winnipeg matron who said Canada would never make a proper impression on Americans if it showed Canadian girls as hussies.
Besides girls, then, the men who are trying to make a new image for Canada in the U. S. will include the idea that this is a “foreign” country of cultured, comfort-loving cities. The
country hasn’t changed—only the travel folders and their byproduct, the image.
Image building has become big business in Canada. Not only corporations but staid institutions like the churches, the banks, arts and culture groups and almost anyone else who offers a product or service to the consumer is getting and often following advice on how to build a good image.
The Canadian National Railways’ recent burst of image building is a good example of why corporations care about their images and what they’re doing about it. The CNR spent a billion dollars on improvements during the ten years preceding 1958. The most ambitious and expensive program of modernization since the days of Sir Henry Thornton. Then the railway went out and asked four thousand Canadians what they thought of the CNR. A year and a four-hundred-and-sixty-one-page report later, the CNR learned the public thought it was a “musty old company ... old-fashioned . .. un-
willing to try new things ... a dreary place to work.”
This intelligence upset the CNR management. Its public relations department, however, spotted the trouble. “Like an iceberg,” one of them said, “most of our modernization was hidden.” What he meant was that the CNR’s money had gone into equipment the public seldom has a chance to see — centralized traffic control boards, a piggyback freight system, automated freight yards and microwave installations. On top of the powerhouse of communications, the public was judging the railway by ticket agents who did business from behind grilled wickets, engineers who shagged down station platforms in baggy overalls, and conductors dressed in uniforms designed in the nineteenth century.
The CNR has since begun a vast image overhaul. First it discarded its old symbol, the initials CNR stamped on a maple leaf. The new
symbol — and a
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HOW TO SPOT A HOME-GROWN 9IV3AGE
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Consumers are getting wily about all commercials. A good image builder has to be even more wily
clue to the image the CNR is trying to build—is the two first initials of the company, joined together in a free-flowing line. "R" has been lopped off to encourage Canadians to look on the CN as more than just a railway. The image it wants to project is that it's a vast complex of steamships, hotels, railways, trucks and telecommunications moving freight, people and messages efficiently and comfortably. Many of the CN's trucks, menus, telegraph forms and some of its I 14.400 freight and passenger cars already display the new symbol, but it will take until 1970 to get even this part of the work completed.
Allan R. Fleming, a graphic designer at Cooper & Beatty in Toronto and creator of the CN symbol, laughingly admits that
traditionalists refer to it as “a jagged squirt of toothpaste'' and “a tapeworm rampant.” Fleming recently told the Montreal Public Relations Society that if corporations wanted to change their image symbols, they'd better-have at least $10.000 to spend and ten times that amount if the job is a real I y big one.
Some of Fleming's past clients have included the Mutual Life Assurance Company of Canada, the Bank of Nova Scotia and Salada-Shirriff-Horsey Limited. And these pioneers in the field—once thenown images are safely patted into place— aie now advising the more reluctant on how to attempt the job themselves.
One public relations man from the Bank of Nova Scotia (image: Scotia Bank) recently gave his uninitiated colleagues a set of questions to help them determine whether or not their employers' public images were bedraggled. His list included: Do you already have a distinctive corporate image? Do you stand well out in front? Or are you sagging behind? Are you a pleasing, distinctive figure of interest? Or are you lost in a crowd?
If a corporation gets lost, the image engineers say, it's dead. One figure they often quote is that the average Canadian consumer hears or sees an average of two thousand commercials a day. They say the consumer remembers only a very small fraction of these and it's the image builder's job to make sure his employer is one of the fortunate few who are remembered.
The consumer, however, is steadily building up more and more resistance to commercials and advertisements that come at him from streetcar placards and the packages in his refrigerator, from his television set and his mailbox and even from his freshly dry-cleaned kimono and the ring
for his car keys. Image builders must therefore be wily about their work. They must penetrate the consumer, but not irritate him. spoon out their message and soothe him into swallowing it before he knows what’s happening.
The images they build fall into easilyrecognized classes. One of the easiest for a novice image-watcher to spot is the cor-
poration that’s “getting into the mainstream of the country” as one public relations man describes it. This kind of corporation advertises to sell its product, but it also wants to let the public know the corporation behind the product is a "responsible citizen, interested in the growth and welfare of the nation." When Westinghouse says, "You can be sure if
it’s Westinghouse.” it’s selling toasters and alarm clocks. When General Electric says. “At General Electric progress is our most important product.” it’s selling an image.
G. E. finances research facilities inside and outside its own corporate structure; it gives university scholarships and tells the public about the importance of education. Other corporations support charities or
become patrons of art and culture. The days of the private citizen being a patron to an artist, or fairy godfather to a charity, are almost over. Image-building corporations are gradually taking over the job. Some are as blatant about it as an ill-bred hussy. To spot them, watch for newspaper photographs of a corporation president handing over a cheque to a charity, with lines below that say, “P. I. N. Stripe, president of the Canadian Toothpick Corporation, gives the National Freckle-faced Children’s Fund a cheque for $5,000. On making his company’s donation, Mr. Stripe said, ‘Bless all the little children.’ ”
The public relations department of the corporation knows it's safe to donate to a national charity for children. Public relations men say it's often unsafe to get mixed up with charities for destitute war veterans, alcoholics or unwed mothers. While consumers all love children, they aren’t unanimous in their sympathy for alcoholics and don’t like the idea of the corporation’s coddling them. For the same reason it’s unwise to admit publicly that a corporation likes dogs—this offends cat lovers, the experts say.
Breweries are wise in the ways of image making, partly because of the opposition temperance leagues muster against them and partly because they have heavy legal restrictions imposed on their advertising. Most brewery publicity is described by the brewers as “public service.” They urge the public to guard forests against “one careless match”; they encourage art and culture (for example, the O’Keefe Centre in Toronto), and they stay clear of controversy. When they lobby on behalf of wildlife they choose otters, martens and caribou—all animals that everyone agrees should be kept from extinction.
This type of image building is more subtle than publicly handing over a cheque, but even more discreet is the image making carried on by companies like Imperial Oil.
In 1948 a young Canadian film maker, Budge Crawley, produced a short movie called The Loon’s Necklace. It told the Indian legend of how the Canadian loon got a white ring around its throat. Crawley tried to sell the film andino one—not even the National Film Board—would buy it. Imperial Oil did. Since then it’s been shown across Canada, has played twentytwo weeks at one theatre in Toronto, and prints have been filed with every provincial department of education and Imperial Oil regional offices. The public sees it free of charge and the only commercial comes at the beginning of the film where, along with the rest of the credits, one line reads, “through courtesy of Imperial Oil.”
Since Imperial bought the Crawley film it’s sponsored another half-dozen of what it calls “cultural films”; has subsidized an archeological dig for the Royal Ontario Museum; set up its public relations department to do a great share of the work on the first Canadian Conference on Education in 1958; and a few years before bought a thousand drawings and paintings from the collection of the late C. W. Jefferys, a Canadian who specialized in documenting Canadian history.
Deliberately, none of these “good deeds” has been publicized by Imperial Oil in any of their commercials. It chooses to identify itself with a project by simply saying, “from the collection of Imperial Oil,” or “courtesy of Imperial Oil,” but extensive patronage and sponsorship of Canadiana has identified it far more closely with Canada than many other American-controlled companies operating here.
These firms are actively trying to live down the image of the American firm “gouging Canadian natural resources and
manpower,” as one of them put it. Part of the image buildup here is to show that the majority of the shareholders and members of the boards of directors are Canadian and that the company is spending its money in Canada. Gas companies are a prime example. Ever since the pipeline debates in the House of Commons in 1956, they’ve tried to live down the impression that they’re controlled by “Texas buccaneers.” They’re also troubled by a second poor image. East of Alberta they’re fighting the public’s long-standing impression that gas is dangerous. They prepare statistics to show it's far down on the list of causes of fires and explosions; they take educational films into classrooms, trying to teach newer generations of consumers not to be afraid of gas; and they emphasize the assets of using gas—it’s cheap, fast, clean and versatile. So far they feel the public has responded poorly to their exhortations.
It is difficult work to revamp a poor image and just as difficult to decide what new image will stick. While the procedures for building one haven't become standard, certain trends are evolving and some future image builders have signified their intentions:
1^ In the future more companies will talk more about themselves and what they're doing. O'Keefe’s brewery, for instance, recently took out four-color advertisements in newspapers to tell readers not about beer but about a new label. The advertisement read, “Fashion bulletin: now when you reach for an Old Vienna, you’ll see an inviting new label that’s
refreshingly different, smartly stylish . . . ”
** There’ll be brisk competition among the banks. The conservative Royal Bank of Canada started off 1962 by telling its customers, in its monthly letter to them, that it had changed its emblem and intended to change its image. The letter encouraged other people to follow suit, and said the bank’s own new look was to suggest "dignity, progressiveness, service, friendliness" and a dozen other points of virtue. The Bank of Montreal urges its customers to call it “My bank,” and the
Toronto-Dominion says that in its offices, "people make the difference.” So far the Bank of Nova Scotia has worked hardest on its image. In the last ten years it has opened branch offices at the rate of one every other week, and its president, William Nicks breaks the traditional mold of the impeccable but unapproachable banker by publicly admitting he's out to round up new customers.
^ Protestant ministers are ready to start playing down their Puritan images and stop equating sex with sin. Last spring
fifty ministers from the Canadian Council of Churches met with their American counterparts in the U. S. and a news report of their meeting said they recommended to themselves that they re-examine their policies and attitudes toward sex “in the light of all available information and new Biblical and theological understanding.”
^ Whenever a new cultural group starts, expect it to use the words “Canadian” or “national" in its name. No theatrical company has much chance for survival unless it can convince the right people it is an
integral part of Canadian culture and as such should receive private, corporate and governmental financial assistance. A public relations team that built images for both the Canadian Opera Company and the Canadian Players said recently the names of these companies were chosen to help sell the idea of their national significance. The team’s next step was to enlist more guilds, schools and women's auxiliaries; and encourage the companies to put on performances for children and make more cross-country tours. The National Ballet Company used the same imagebuilding process in 1951 when a group of Canadians, calling themselves the National Ballet Guild, founded it. The Earl Grey Players, established years before the Ballet, didn’t make an effort to “get into the mainstream of the country.” The company is defunct.
^ Another lively field of imagery to watch is the large corporation that's buying up competitors. The new giant may reshape its image to explain that, while it’s been faithfully serving Canadians for years, it’s going to be of more service in the future because it’s expanding and growing with the country. A good example of this is Salada. It went into business in 1892 selling tea. Today it has three hundred different products and calls itself the largest independent publicly owned Canadian packaged food company. Housewives have for years put their trust in brand names Salada now controls—Shirriff, Horsey, SEA. Seville and Junket. Salada must gradually make the old customers “loyal” to the new company.
* Personal images are the hardest kind to spot, and television has made them the hardest kind to build. Public relations men claim the television camera has an X-ray eye that can pierce a façade and damage a public figure irreparably. That’s why many radio performers couldn’t switch to TV. They had radio personalities that weren’t true to themselves; the public found them out when they stepped in front of a camera. Some politicians have the same problem. Their best bet, according to their image advisers, is to stay off television altogether.
^ Finally, watch for the Canadian Public Relations Society to try to do something about its own image and its members’. It doesn’t like them being called manipulators and hidden persuaders and it says it’s even more ashamed that some Canadian public relations men arc promising corporations magic images conjured up by a mystic power that only a privileged few can harness.
Didn’t the wandering peddlers who sold snake oil out of covered wagons use a line like that? ★