Image sources: Wikimedia, CP. Art by, Noel Ransome

Trudeau’s Government Has Spent $20,000 on Snapchat Filters and That’s a Bargain

Please respect JT’s brand command.

May 11 2017, 3:28pm

Image sources: Wikimedia, CP. Art by, Noel Ransome

Snapchat is the universal go-to for dog-face selfies, rainbow vomit, sexts and possibly drug deals, so naturally Justin Trudeau's Liberals felt it would be a great vehicle for extending their brand to the youths. And thanks to a request submitted by Calgary MP Michelle Rempel back in March, we have conclusive proof that various agencies in the federal government spent money on social media outreach. Specifically, it turns out that they spent more than $16,000 US on customized Snapchat filters since assuming office in November 2015.

Personally, I do not truly understand Snapchat. I have an account but I don't use it because I have been in a long-term relationship since before it was possible or necessary to flirt with people by sending or receiving self-destructing nudes. But I can also respect that the medium of Snapchat itself mirrors the fleeting human condition as we blink into and out of existence before vanishing forever from memory. The teens are goth and/or square as fuck these days I guess and while I respect that, I turn 30 this year which means I'm basically already dead so Snapchat is more than my ancient brain can handle. RIP to me curating another soul-crushing array of branded interactions on a social media platform in the futile quest for digital immortality.

So to me, this feels like a lot of money to spend on a glorified disposable camera. But in this brave new media world, maybe it's a legitimate office expense like pens or notepads or cardboard cutouts of the Prime Minister. The Canadian embassy in Washington D.C. seemed to think so, ordering custom filters for the 2016 White House Correspondents Dinner ($300), Canada Day 2016 ($200), and Donald Trump's inauguration ($125). (The $147 cardboard Justin, meanwhile, was brought out partly because they thought it'd go over great on Snapchat.)

But it's Canadian Heritage that loves Snapchatting the most, spending more than $13,000 on custom filters over the course of two days. On New Year's Eve 2016, they bought 19 location-specific filters for different places across the country, ranging from a $19 filter for St. John's to $526 for the National Capital Region. The next day, to mark the NHL 100 Event in Toronto, they spent $10,000 on a single filter that was used 859 times and garnered 43,086 views. That's a cool 4.3 views for every dollar spent, but let's be real: that level of brand engagement is priceless.

Brand extension and reinforcement is the name of the game the federal Liberals are the reigning Canadian champions. In internal documents summarizing the use of the filters in America, Global Affairs Canada wrote that they "enhance Canada's visibility, recognition and branding. This new model of diplomacy is key to helping Canada achieve its foreign policy, trade, consular and development objectives." Similarly, Canadian Heritage justified its Snapchat bill to itself by writing that the filters "build awareness and heighten visibility around the year-long 150th celebration. This innovative approach adds on the government's efforts in finding new ways of reaching and engaging Canadians."

It seems like a lot of money to luddites and curmudgeons on the outside, but getting Snapchat on lockdown is the latest logical extension of the last half-century of political marketing in Canada. Applying tactics designed to make people buy largely useless, otherwise generic objects and services is a natural fit for the mandarins in the Liberal party. The beauty of branding is that you don't even need to provide a product—just an emotion. Lodge a sentimental fishhook in someone's brain through the dark magic of marketing psychology and repeated, mundane reinforcement in daily life and their imagination will do the rest of the work that takes them to—or keeps them out—of the polling booth on voting day as necessary. It doesn't actually matter what the government actually does as much as what it appears to be doing and how that makes you feel.

To master demographics is to master destiny. Presumably the communications hivemind in Ottawa has divined that the patriotically-inclined Snapchat user between the ages of 18-35 is a likely Liberal customer. That's probably worth sixteen grand US--hell, it's probably worth 20 times that if you are a forward-thinking Liberal.

#Canada is a brand and so are the leaders who sell it and themselves to you, the consumer. Central to that brand is the prime minister himself. Justin Trudeau's genteel cardboard smile is a warm refuge in the madness of a post-Trump world, a mythic oasis of enlightened values hearkening back to his father and the Charter and peacekeeping and medicare and canoeing on a serene woodland lake in northern Ontario or the BC interior and Fred Penner crooning childhood lullabies out of the AM radio in your parent's car on the Sunday drive to get there. Where the prime minister ends and the Brand begins is a mystery for theologians now.

(This is not unique to the Liberals, of course; Stephen Harper was more brand than man too by the end of it. If he'd won in 2015 you could expect a bunch of Snapchat filters involving battleships in the Northwest Passage or a little cartoon Queen.)

But there's no question that Canada is a good, solid brand. You have a positive attachment to it. You care about the brand and you engage with it regularly in your daily life. You think about the brand frequently and discuss it with your extended social network. It exists in competition with other national brands and it's nice to see it take such a strong valuation in the international market, especially in America, historically its most important and defining competitor.

The Canadian brand is so strong right now that a Broadway musical about Canadian friendliness is currently up for a bunch of Tony Awards and the New Yorker is running long essays lamenting that the American Revolution was a grave error and that "we could have been Canada" instead. The brand is so good that staff in the White House are using Trudeau as a backdoor lobbying tactic on President Donald Trump, which I'm not even sure the Russians can do so casually.

Then again, who knows what they're Snapchatting the President.

Follow Drew Brown on Twitter.

VICE Channels