North of the 400

North of Toronto, South of a championship

Not drinking the Pepsi on Team Canada’s new chant

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Ed. Note: I wrote this a little over a week ago and was hoping to find a place for it to run before the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship. However, since the final game was tonight, it obviously didn’t. So I’m running it here.

With the IIHF’s World Junior hockey tournament just finishing and the Winter Olympics on the horizon, it appears Canadians are quickly getting into a cheering spirit.

I’m having a hard time.

It’s not that I can’t get behind supporting Canada, even though they win much more often then not.

It’s not the tournament itself, even it’s always stacked with weak teams.

It’s not even TSN’s unabashed selling of this tournament, which sometimes seems to border on saturation-level.

It’s a chant that’s bugging me. I can’t get behind the Official Team Canada Cheer.

Not too long ago, Pepsi started a campaign called Cheer Nation, to give team Canada a new chant. It boiled down to two fan-submitted chants that people could choose a winner from; the winning chant was one that combined the national anthem with a positive message for the hockey team, by way of Bob and Doug MacKenzie.

But there’s a problem with the chant. Not only is it a dull, meaningless chant that just barely manages to rhyme, but it’s the end result of a massive corporate push that strays too close to the line of fandom for me.

It’s not that I dislike Pepsi (though I wish they’d bring back Holiday Spice), it’s just that I dislike advertising that masquerades as something else, in this case patriotism. Their corporate cheer doesn’t do or say anything that any other cheer – Go Canada Go, for instance – doesn’t already say.

Instead it acts as a kind of mnemonic device, a catchy phrase that easily sticks in the head. And once it’s in, there will always be a subconscious connection between the cheer and it’s promoter, Pepsi.

The late Phil Dusenberry once wrote that the key to advertising is having insights, not ideas. Here the insight is a catchy way to cheer on your hometown team – it’s no coincidence this chant’s launch co-insides with the start of a Canadian-hosted tournament – and tie it to a pop.

If it seems a tad cynical to say Pepsi is co-opting fandom with a chant, remember this: the chant (which I have yet to hear chanted) is not only featured prominently in ad campaigns – it’s draped across the Pepsi bill on the sideboards of the rink – but it’s tied to a contest where fans who sign up will get their name in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

It’s not only a play to our fandom, but a play to our vanity too. Your name… Wayne Gretzky’s name… right there, in the same building. In the Hall of Fame.

Another problem I have with the cheer is the way it’s being pushed on fans – relentlessly. Enter Cameron Hughes.

According to a report on Yahoo!’s Puck Daddy, Hughes is a professional fan. He’s paid to cheer – sometimes for teams, sometimes for products. Recently, he’s been hired by Pepsi to start chants of the winning cheer. When Canada scores, has a big hit or needs a big goal (something that happens maybe three times a decade), he stands up and chants. Puck Daddy’s report says that Hughes leads entire sections in cheering, then tosses T-shirts he’s been wearing.

Is he marked as somebody from Pepsi? Do fans know that he’s a hired person there to spread a corporate cheer? Surely for most fans, it’s unclear that he represents Pepsi.

So instead of the cheer coming on organically, it’s being forced on fans in a way that borders on sneaky.

Fans don’t need to learn a new chant when the old one is just as effective. Fans don’t need a corporate jingle pushed on them under the guise of cheering on the good guys. And they especially don’t need a corporate jingle being pushed upon them by somebody hired to act as a fan, either.

When it comes to the chant, maybe Pepsi should take a lesson from Coke and go back to the classic.

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Written by M.

January 5, 2010 at 11:40 pm

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