Craig Blackburn

Do you remember Alberta’s “brand,” cooked up back when Ed Stelmach was our Progressive Conservative premier? Well, don’t worry about it, no one else does either.

Indeed, as Wildrose MLA Heather Forsyth pointed out in the Legislature back in October 2010, that was the thing about the Alberta brand invented in the spring of 2009 for $3.7 million by perennial Tory advertising agency Calder Bateman Communications: No one could remember it!

This is particularly weird since the whole idea of a brand is that you can remember it, whether you want to or not. It’s supposed to be, like, burned right into your skin!

But about the only things anyone can remember about the Stelmach Government’s effort to re-brand Alberta as an environmentally friendly, happy and creative kind of place are the price tag and the goofy story about how the brainiacs behind the related advertising campaign used pictures of English kids on an English beach to boost Canada’s second most western province.

There’s a theory that the brand’s double-barrelled slogan — “Freedom to Create, Spirit to Achieve” — made it particularly hard to remember. Who knows? I can certainly always remember the Alberta slogan that I thought of in response: “All Hat. No Cows.”

Whatever, something’s got to be done and apparently, now that Stelmach is history, Alberta Premier Alison Redford is apparently just the woman to do it. At any rate, according to an Edmonton branding firm called Urban Jungle, Redford has made noises about doing just that.

Now, I have to be clear here, I missed Redford’s musings on the brand and I don’t know anything about Urban Jungle. (I live in the suburbs, for heaven’s sake, what would I know about urban jungles?) I’d never heard of them before they sent me a press release about this.

What’s more, unlike the mainstream media, I don’t rely on press releases for news. (I rely on the mainstream media, which relies on press releases, but never mind that just now.)

However, I thought it was fair to quote this one because it made me laugh out loud. You see, what Urban Jungle, which brands itself a branding firm, is doing is offering to come up with the new brand for Alberta to replace the brand that no one can remember and Redford apparently doesn’t like.

In fact, the old brand has been branded a failure, so obviously it’s time to re-brand!

Well, big deal, you might say, all the other branding firms are probably heating up their irons for the same branding party, which of course would be true.

What makes Urban Jungle’s bid different is they’re offering to do it for free.

“We are in full agreement with the premier’s position that the current branding for the province has not achieved, and will not achieve, the intended results, and that a solution is required,” said company founder Craig Blackburn, who is obviously some sort of smart aleck. “Since we are uniquely positioned with the expertise and ability to donate our services, we’d like to step up and help get it done right.”

So, consider this simple comparative chart:

Alberta Brand Cost

Calder Bateman Advertising – $3.7 million (2009 dollars)
Urban Jungle – $0 (2012 dollars)

Yeah, you might say, but you can’t just hire anyone off the street to do an important job like this. So who the heck are these guys?

Well, like I said, I have no idea, but nobody can remember the brand that Calder Bateman came up with. A survey the government of Alberta commissioned in October 2010 discovered that 26 per cent of Albertans said they “vaguely recall seeing” the brand when shown it on a computer screen. This, the Stelmach government said in a press release of its own, was a good thing. So it would be hard for Urban Jungle to do worse, unless maybe they came up with something like: “Alberta, putting the ‘tar’ back in Tarnation,” “Mile Zero on the Jobs Pipe to Texas,” or something.

Now, in fairness to Calder Bateman, which is obviously a highly competent agency, this whole fiasco smacked of a Stelmach-era cluster-pluck by committee. I suspect that, if they’d just been left to their own devices without the interference of such players as the Public Affairs Bureau, the Premier’s Office and heaven knows who else, they would have done a great job. Plus, of course, that budget figure surely includes money for advertising, which is expensive whatever you do it for, so the comparison above isn’t necessarily completely fair. But then, who said life had to be?

Be that as it may, Blackburn said in his news release that his firm “has contacted the premier’s office” and is already working on a new brand for the province.

Well, good for them! This shows considerable pluck and optimism, just the sorts of qualities that our 2009 brand was supposed to imply made Alberta great.

Alas, for Blackburn, that’s not the way things actually work here in Alberta any more.

You see, if Redford goers ahead and demands someone come up with a new provincial brand, it’s pretty obvious who’s most likely going to get the work.

Someone like Calder Bateman.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga’s blog, Alberta Diary.

David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga is a journalist and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. He left journalism after the strike...