Cultivate the brand Canada Cool

Guest Commentary
By Deanna Horton and Lorna Wright


The Economist magazine recently singled Canada out as an example to the world. The magazine focused on our liberalism and tolerance, but can we be “cool” too? Japan has done it with its Cool Japan Fund. Are there lessons there for us?

The Cool Japan Fund (CJF), launched three years ago, invests in promoting Japan’s unique and innovative products and services to growth markets in Asia and beyond. This fund currently has more than $500-million from a mix of private sector and government sources.

Essentially, the fund makes an investment in those companies it believes have the potential with their “cool factor” to make inroads into international markets, and encourages collaboration among companies to draw upon expertise in various sectors.

So, for example, Bakugan anime (featuring spinning spheres that burst open into Japanese-style action figures) could be supported by the CJF with the creation of an expanded line of Bakugan-related products.

Similarly, CJF supports the outbound “localization” (i.e. translation/modification) of Japanese products, including digital content, for overseas markets.

The Cool Japan Fund has also supported the creation of the Japanese version of Airbnb, known as “Stay Japan,” along with other initiatives to promote inbound tourism, particularly to regions outside of Tokyo and Osaka/Kyoto.

By promoting anime, for instance, Japan burnishes its brand as a creative and innovative culture.

Canada is in the same boat, and needs this kind of strategic support to embellish its brand overseas – not through government advertising, but rather through the support of private sector companies with products or services that embody Canada’s “cool.”

How could this model be set up in Canada? First, government and industry advisers need to determine and define “Cool Canada” – how about a mix of digital media, e-commerce apps, quantum computing, craft beer, cuisine and cleantech?

Following Japan’s example, Canada would need to consider a mix of financial, advertising/media, and consumer-brand industries.

Second, the initiative requires a stable of private-sector investors.

And a Cool Canada Fund would be an ideal investment vehicle for pension funds that normally would not participate in smaller venture projects.

Third, set up a small group with industry experts to identify the ideal companies and potential markets for cool Canadian products and services.

Canada already has the advantage of being widely regarded throughout the Asia Pacific as an honest and reliable partner with high-quality products and well-governed businesses. Let’s build on that reputation with an emboldened brand built on a foundation of new technology, world-class innovation and collaboration.

To be successful, Canada would also have to adopt the long-term investment horizon of the Cool Japan Fund, incorporating periodic reviews that would open up the next stages of funding to participant companies and organizations.

A Cool Canada Fund could also add a Dragon’s Den-styled competitive component for promoting Canada’s participation in the global digital economy, and make this an essential element of “Canada’s Innovation Agenda.” One of the objectives of this agenda, led by the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, is “to build super clusters for business innovation and global reach, from idea generation to value creation.”

Cool Canada – the world is ready for us. A Cool Canada Fund would get our businesses ready for new and expanding opportunities within the context of our shifting global economy.

And Japan could be our next trade-agreement partner, so we can be cool together.


Deanna Horton is a senior fellow with the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada and Munk School of Global Affair’s Innovation and Policy Lab. Lorna Wright is executive director at the Centre for Global Enterprise, York University’s Schulich School of Business.

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