By Nicole Cohen
He’s about as Canadian as a Ryerson student—or anyone else for that matter—gets. He wears a Tragically Hip medallion around his neck and carries the Canadian flag with him to concerts. He watches Saturday night hockey and cheers for the Maple Leafs. He says sorry when he bumps into people and lives for Canadian bacon.
He’s so Canadian, in fact, that he inspired the hugely successful Molson “I am Canadian” advertising rant has been the talk of the country since it aired last spring.
Meet Joey Monsier, a 21-year-old image arts student who teaches people how to properly use the word ‘eh’ and truly loves his country.
Monsier works at Toronto-based advertising agency Bensimon Bryce D’arcy, the company responsible for the popular ad. During the summer of 1999, the agency began to pitch for Molson Canadian beer. Following the hype of Labatt’s successful “Out of the Blue” campaign, Molson wanted a new approach to advertising Canadian beer.
The creative team decided to pick the brains of young, hip, pop culture connoisseurs such as Monsier. They wanted to know what was going on with the 19- to 24-year-old crowd and what being Canadian meant to them.
“I had just come back from Woodstock,” Monsier says, “and they called me into the boardroom and asked me who Limp Bizkit was and what was going on.”
Then they asked him what it meant to be Canadian. So off he went on a rant about why he is so proud to live in Canada. Little did he know, however, that his rant would inspire the content of a commercial and put Canadians’ feelings about their country into context.
“I explained the grand swell of pride we all feel even though we don’t always wave a flag,” he says. “We’re not as outwardly patriotic as Americans, though we all feel it.” He brought up issues of health care, politeness, cleanliness, peacekeeping, diversity and assimilation, all of which are mentioned in the ad.
Once Monsier demonstrated that young Canadians do in fact feel passionate about their country, the Molson pitch team invited a group of 19- to 24-year-old Canadians from different ethnic backgrounds to participate in research groups. Monsier filmed the groups and was excited to see people sharing his enthusiasm for Canada.
“I was glad that as a country we were finally saying that we’re not just America’s bitches,” he says. The pitch team asked the group the same questions Monsier was asked, trying to find out exactly what being Canadian meant.
“Answers ranged from great beer to hockey and chicks, but regardless of the intelligence of the answers, they all felt pride,” says Monsier. The group also raised issues of freedom, government and safety, all of which he was happy to see make it into the commercial.
As proud as he is about the ad and his involvement in the creative process, Monsier says he can’t take full responsibility for the Joe Canadian spiel.
“Though I brought up the issues, I didn’t say it in the exact same words as the ad, so I can’t say that Joe is me.”
When the ad was completed, however, Molson execs told Monsier they were thinking of his ideas when they wrote the ad and named the character Joe after him. Monsier says he has a hard time taking credit, especially since Joe is such a generic name.
“I can’t even say to people, “Hi, my name is Joe and I am Canadian’ because it’s so overused and no one’s going to buy it.”
Monsier says he is, however, jealous of Canadian actor Jeff Daniels, who plays Joe Canadian in the commercial.
“Everytime I see him I’m like ‘damit! He’s playing me!’”
Monsier would have auditioned to play Joe Canadian but says he doesn’t have enough acting experience and isn’t commercial-worthy.
“He is a pretty boy and I’m the mountainy scraggly lumberjack type.”
There have been many spin-off versions of the I Am Canadian commercial, including and “I am Australian” ad in which a kangaroo stands in front of the Aussie flag and rants about life down under. “I Am Jewish” and “I Am Italian” rants are some of the ones circulating on the Internet.
So maybe Monsier isn’t the Joe Canadian you see on television, but he is the Joe Canadian whose patriotism you see in the commercial.
“I am sometimes bitter that it’s not me up there on stage yelling out my ideas,” he says, “but I do secretly relish in the fact that I played a role in turning average Canadians like me into flag-waving, Tragically Hip-listening patriots.”