In late May, Minister of Canadian Heritage Mélanie Joly announced three guiding themes for this year’s Canada Day celebrations: reconciliation, women’s empowerment, and diversity and inclusion. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen political bodies thematize events and campaigns. In February, Minister Joly announced that Black Canadian Women would be the theme for Black History Month. In March, Status of Women Canada structured International Women’s Day celebrations around the theme of #MyFeminism.
Themes effectively organize large-scale communications. They act as a guiding principle for curating content, which helps brands unify their voices and deliver their messages. Themes rally audiences and give them a meaningful entry point. When audiences see their personalities and values reflected in themes, they are more likely to join a conversation and share content. The values inherent in a theme can also propel a message and strengthen a brand. The three Canada Day themes—which are fundamentally about supporting the rights of marginalized populations—further the Liberal party’s brand association of being “synonymous with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”
Successful brands use themes to make emotional appeals. Financial services company HSBC designed a 60-second spot around the theme of global citizenship. The company’s promise is that “together we thrive,” which is an offer to its customers as much as it is a political statement to the world. HSBC is associating itself—smartly—with the experience of belonging. Skype uses a theme of connectedness in its communications. The imagery reinforces the idea that Skype brings people together; photos include more than one person and are embellished with illustrations of transportation.
These themes resonate so well because they make a connection with something bigger than just a product. The brands aren’t selling financial services or telecommunications with these ads. They’re selling a universal feeling.
Themes lose impact if there’s too much noise, which is to say too many competing topics and messages. Audiences may also feel confused if they can’t tell what a brand is about based on what it communicates. Themes must emerge through a consistent series of interrelated topics across platforms and through varied content. Each theme should complement the brand, but not in a self-serving manner. Ideally, themes are also evergreen, aspirational and suited to multiple applications—from a 280-character tweet to a print advertising campaign.
Themes are powerful because they lessen a brand’s impulse to say too much. The structure of a theme gives companies pause to think and ask themselves: “What should we say? When should we say it?” Communications become more meaningful and audiences become more familiar when brands value quality over quantity.
It’s encouraging to see the Government of Canada adopting themes, which provide meaningful ways to join important national conversations. As various departments refine their approaches, Canadians can communicate more openly and thoughtfully about what keeps everyone connected. That’s worth celebrating.