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Does Alberta Really Look Like Northumberland and Sound Like Arkansas?

May 2, 2009

Apparently Alberta is out for some global recognition. The province has recently completed a “branding initiative” that, as the official website proclaims, is intended to “show the world that every Albertan has the spirit to create, and the freedom to achieve, anything”. At this point I should probably confess that the marketing term “brand”, applied to anything other than a consumer product, always makes me wince. A province might need an image, but it doesn’t need a brand, as such – people aren’t going to buy it off a shelf.

Terminology aside, Alberta NDP leader Brian Mason seems to think the campaign isn’t going so well. The CBC quoted him as saying:

This government just spent $25 million of taxpayers money to give Alberta a new image. All they’ve done is make Alberta look like Northumberland and sound like Arkansas.

He was referring to two recent controversies, one amusing and the other mildly infuriating. The amusing one has to do with an image used in the branding initiative, which actually features a beach in Northumberland, England. The offending picture can be seen, as the Alberta government’s blog wryly admits, at 1:24 in the following video:

I can understand the temptation to borrow a picture of a beach in, say, Thailand or Brazil, ideally complete with scantily-clad sunbathers. If someone can convince the world that Alberta looks like that, investors, tourists and potential immigrants will be beating down the door. But chilly, windswept Northumberland? They must have been desperate.

The infuriating controversy is over a bill that mostly relates to protecting homosexuals from discrimination, but for some reason includes a clause saying that children can be excused from classroom lessons that conflict with their parents religious beliefs. Evolution and homosexuality, the CBC notes, are two topics that parents might want to shield their children from. (Presumably a discussion of the evolution of homosexuality would make their pious little heads implode.) The whole thing sounds like a genuflection to willful ignorance and narrow-mindedness, and Rick Bell in the Calgary Sun also asks some pointed questions about how broadly the right to skip supposedly objectionable lessons will be interpreted. It’s fun to imagine extreme cases – what about the infamous Biblical passage (I Kings 7:23-26) that implies that the value of pi is exactly three? All geometry involving circles is clearly one vast Satanic conspiracy.

In the service of the branding initiative, Harris/Decima researchers investigated attitudes to Alberta in both Canada and the US. Americans, they reported (PDF here), tended “to assume that Alberta was a vast, cold place, of considerable beauty”. If knowledge of Alberta is at that level even in the country next door, there’s probably little need to worry about how the finer points of the province’s education system might influence global opinion. Let Brian Mason cease his carping and hope with the rest of us that Canada’s Northumberland, coldly beautiful and newly branded, succeeds in winning its due share of the world’s attention.


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2 Comments leave one →
  1. marakardasnelson permalink*
    May 4, 2009 8:12 am

    This whole thing is hilarious–great post. Alberta certainly is “branding” itself, although it’s questionable whether or not it’s doing so effectively. But as the saying goes, isn’t any news good news?


  1. Alberta 2.0 welcomes the world… : fusedlogic

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