Motel 6 mix up aside, let’s hope Yukon’s new ads work

If Yukon's tourism boosters want to find a vivid metaphor for the territory, a budget motel chain was probably not what they had in mind.

If Yukon’s tourism boosters want to find a vivid metaphor for the territory, a budget motel chain was probably not what they had in mind. Unfortunately, that was the initial connection made by some viewers of the territory’s new advertisements, which initially ended with a line nearly identical to the slogan for Motel 6: “We’ll leave a light on for you.”

Upon learning about the goof-up, the agency responsible for the ads quickly swapped out the offending line for “We’ll light the way.” The ads had already been broadcast for a few days by then, but, in the scheme of things, this is not a huge deal. Still, the agency’s failure to fully own the mistake only invites further ridicule.

Outside the Cube explained in a statement that it searched Industry Canada’s website and elsewhere to check for any existing trademarks, but nothing turned up. Apparently, they had not at the time heard of a website called Google, for a simple search turns up many references to the Motel 6 catchphrase. Indeed, our own search of the Industry Canada site also finds a top reference to the Motel 6 trademark. Clearly, someone didn’t do this job right.

Outside the Cube’s statement is all the more remarkable for suggesting that the overlap with Motel 6’s slogan may not even be a problem. The hotel chain hadn’t complained yet, after all, “and the advice of our legal and trademark advisors suggest there are options to move forward as is.” C’mon. As if that were a real option.

These marketing gurus are being paid handsomely with public funds to create these ads. It seems reasonable to expect a bit more forthrightness about an entirely preventable oversight. (OK, this is exactly the sort of butt-covering we would expect from our political leaders. But must we set the bar for everyone else so low?)

As for the advertisement itself? Well, it seeks to persuade well-heeled Canadians that it is an exotic luxury to idle at a Yukon log cabin in frigid temperatures while reading Robert Service and watching the northern lights glow. Let’s hope it works. With the mining downturn, many local retailers are hurting. The territory’s slumping economy could sure use a boost.

The Yukon doesn’t exactly hold a monopoly on Canada’s snow and trees and northern lights, but perhaps childhood memories of reading the Bard of the Yukon remain strong enough to open many wallets.

The commercial won’t win any awards for originality, but this shouldn’t be a surprise, as governments usually prefer bland campaigns to anything too edgy or interesting. For comparison, it’s worth checking out online an ad that Steve Gordon produced for the Yukon, using much of the same subject matter. It ends with the bold line, “Not for everyone.” It’s easy to understand why such a slogan wouldn’t get past the screening of government officials

– couldn’t it be misconstrued as a put-down? – but it’s also a line that people might actually remember, or even talk about. Heaven forbid.

Dennis Allen, a Yukon First Nation filmmaker, has dumped on the government ads for not including First Nation representation. Outside the Cube has hastened to say that future ads will play up First Nation culture, which it recognizes is integral to the territory. This seems fair enough. Otherwise, why stop there, if we’re being truly respectful? What of Yukon’s immigrant families and gay couples, among other groups that all surely deserve token, walk-on appearances within the ad’s brief 30 seconds?

Remember, these are commercials, not documentaries. Advertising has never been too concerned with realism and truth-telling. It’s largely the business of selling fantasies that are seductive enough to persuade people to part with their money.

Yukon’s tourism ads should be judged primarily on whether they succeed in this aim, and at this point, it’s too early to say.