Skip to content

Opinion: Bill Walton, Branding

Do you know these images? Is it a brand? It is too late to change our City’s name but we can work on the ‘brand’ we have unconsciously been developing as a ‘secretive council’, limited democracy in the Chambers, high taxes/low-income town somewhere in the cold North of Ontario.

One of my Warrior friends related the story of how when she was a precocious (my descriptor) child she read the Nugget, a local newspaper. The family moved to Ottawa and after a short time of settling into their new home, she asked her parents when they could get a Nugget – she missed reading the news. Explanations followed that the local newspaper they would be getting was the Ottawa Citizen, not the Nugget. My naïve seven-year-old friend thought that the word ‘Nugget’ meant ‘a newspaper’. No, all newspapers had their own names, father said. In our small town, the Nugget had branded itself to her as The Newspaper.

Today that would be acknowledged as successful branding - going from a weekly called the Cobalt Nugget to a daily paper printed in North Bay and becoming a Newspaper to a young reader who thought all newspapers were called Nuggets. Nuggets of information, I guess.

The idea being that whenever you thought of a newspaper you thought of the Nugget. Sort of when you think of Golden Arches you think McDonalds. Or when you think of hockey you think of the Maple Leafs. Maybe not so much.

If you say Double-Double every Canadian knows exactly that you are referring to a Tim Hortons’ coffee. If you said instead, give me a Starbucks, you would end up with a la-te-dah hot drink, only a part of which is coffee. One company has branded itself as a coffee place, the other as an upscale drink purveyor whose coffee cup must have your name on it.

Cities try to brand themselves, often in an effort to avoid their reputation which might not attract businesses or even dwellers. The Big Smoke hardly tempts. Nor does Winterpeg.  The Big Apple on the other hand is confusing if you are not inclined to risk it all and take a big bite of life in New York City. And so, cities wanted to brand themselves with a positive name and image.  North Bay was no exception.

The problem our City had was first of all its very name.

That word North has a stigma – cold, remote, cold, snowmobiling in July. The mistake of naming a place North Bay was made, apparently from a keg of nails, and we had to make the best of it. If the Nugget, a small daily could brand itself in peoples’ minds as a Newspaper, why not rebrand the City? I mean, Gateway to the North wasn’t good enough?

I was working for the City at the time and I remember clearly the day Council and the CAO unfurled the flag, our new logo and motto. They got it completely wrong I said to a colleague: it should have been “Just South Enough to be Perfect.”

All that aside, I was thinking about the young lady and her believing the Nugget was a name for all newspapers. If what you first know is the basis for ‘branding’ all similar things, do we realize that we might ourselves be a ‘brand’? Are all fathers just like your father to every child? All mothers are surely like yours?  All grandpas and grandmas as loving as yours? Why not?

Of course, as we gain experience and knowledge, we find that the answer is no, you cannot brand every person – or every newspaper – on what you had as a first impression. Unfortunately, sometimes that first branding gives a bad impression and we think all uncle Peters are gropers or party drunks.

Thus branding can have unpleasant consequences. Asked where you live or are from, and once you get the North Bay/Thunder Bay thing out of the way, invariably the interlocutor will say “Mike Harris!” and you try to talk about the lakes, the fishing, the summer sunsets – but to little avail. If you are a Bridge player and sitting there with 19 points, aces, and queens, wanting to say ‘No Trump’ and your partner is a Don Trump wannabe, do you avoid the branding and say 3 hearts?

It is too late to change our City’s name but we can work on the ‘brand’ we have unconsciously been developing as a ‘secretive council’, limited democracy in the Chambers, high taxes/low-income town somewhere in the cold North of Ontario. We may have taken the first step in re-branding by electing so many females to our council chambers. 2023 might be the time to re-brand or at least burnish our image as the city that is just north enough to be perfect.

2023 might also be the year for those of us who have branded ourselves as parents or grandparents to burnish our images a little.

Those in the hockey community can show they are working on their image after the mess Hockey Canada got itself into. Our Police Services have to be aware of the image branding harm done by a few bad apples who wear the Blue south of the border; as do our leaders in politics, education, health, and religion.

Returning to the Warrior who thought all newspapers were Nuggets, the Warriors of Hope, who have a very positive image for breast cancer survivors in the North Bay area, are refreshing their branding in the new year. We want to portray an even more positive brand, despite our successes in the past. We want to show more Heart, Determination, and Strength in the future. We want to be even more involved volunteering in the community, giving back, not only for breast cancer survivors but to those who need it.  Of course, we take the breast cancer survivor and awareness message wherever we go - and we do explain just where and what North Bay is, was, and will be.

Oh, that Mike Harris. Sorry about that . . .

Bill Walton

About the Author: Bill Walton

Retired from City of North Bay in 2000. Writer, poet, columnist
Read more
Reader Feedback