Destination Canada invites Americans to take a ‘Maple Leave’

Who: Destination Canada, with Rethink for strategy, creative and production; Praytell for PR; and Initiative for media.

What: “Maple Leave,” a tourism campaign presenting Canada as a remedy for Americans who are feeling stressed: Instead of “sick leave,” they can take maple leave. It’s also the first campaign coming out of a new brand positioning introduced last year.

When & Where: The campaign launched on Jan. 17,  with creative running across connected TV, digital and social, for four weeks in key markets of New York, New Jersey, California, Florida and Texas.

Why (brand positioning): Rethink was hired last spring to work on a new brand positioning and strategy for Destination Canada.

For a long time, Canadian tourism has emphasized its “niceness,” even introducing “Canada Nice” as a brand platform late in the first year of the pandemic, explained Susan Dong, executive director of brand strategy for Destination Canada. But in the post-pandemic travel landscape—with every market working extra hard to revive its tourism industry—Destination Canada knew that being nice didn’t say enough. “We need a way to really stand out from the crowd and more clearly articulate what is nice,” said Dong.

The mandate for Rethink was to dig deep in order to figure out who Canada is as a country, what makes it unique, and how could they share that with the world.

“And so—after doing all that work—the brand positioning is a realization, and clear articulation of what makes us nice,” said Dong. “It is this unique blend of openness that we feel we are in Canada, that enable us to be seen as nice, but nice is not part of the brand positioning. We’re moving past that, we’re getting sharper at ‘What does Canada stand for?’ And we want to stand for openness and inspiring more openness in the world.”

Why Maple Leave? With openness as the new brand positioning, the first campaign was about figuring out what people are looking for right now, said Dong. “And that’s the feeling they need more space in their life, mental, physical and emotional space and, and that’s who we are.”

According to Rethink, “a place to destress” is the top emotional driver for Americans. This campaign goes directly to that sweet spot, showing potential visitors that Canada offers a wide range of destinations and attractions that can help people relax.

How: The campaign’s anchor 60-second spot opens with a woman chopping firewood in an archetypal Canadian setting: lakeside, forest, mountain in the background.

“Do you want to get away when things get spicy at home,” she says, as she throws a log on the fire. “Then Canada invites you to go on… Maple Leave.” The rest of a spot features other average Canadians showing off some of the many ways people can visit Canada to destress.

All the destinations and attractions are real, but wry humour is woven throughout the explanations of why they could help people take a break from all their problems with a “Maple Leave.”

“Creatively, we visualized the spot to look like a Canadian postcard inviting people to visit,” said Grace Cho, creative director at Rethink, in a release introducing the campaign. “We intentionally used the 4:3 ratio to stand out in the category and ensure that the spot felt friendly, nostalgic, and open.”

“In a time when Americans are looking for a break, Canada delivers an explicit message, driving differentiation by demonstrating Canada’s spirit and humour, and bringing levity in a space filled with expected clichés,” added creative director Cam Spires.

The spot ends with a push to, a special microsite that can take visitors to sites for each of the locations featured in the ad, as well as to other possible destinations organized around themes like wellness, cultural experiences, and natural wonders.

And we quote: “Now, more than ever, travellers are seeking to de-stress — whether it’s through wellness, the outdoors or culture. Canada as a destination offers the spaces for travellers to connect with nature, passions, and most importantly, themselves, so they can return home feeling renewed.” —Gloria Loree, chief marketing officer, Destination Canada

David Brown