Branding a Divided Place – Muskoka Lakes.

In 2008 Muskoka was set to be the host of the G8 Summit. The entire planet would set its focus on the area with the world’s super powers congregating here. Our agency was awarded the assignment to develop a brand positioning, strategy and creative platform for the rebrand. As most North American’s know, Muskoka is known as a world-class cottage destination.  Everyone from Steven Spielberg to Halle Barry to Kate Hudson make their way to Muskoka for a summer retreat.  On the surface, leading the strategy didn’t seem like a massive positioning challenge. Muskoka had become a luxury destination on par with other North American destinations like Jackson Hole, Telluride, Lake Tahoe and The Hamptons.  The strategy almost wrote itself. That is until we dug a little deeper.

The entire area’s economy depends on seasonal travel and tourism. So much so that during off-season, the resident base was as little as 3,000 people. During summer, that number ballooned up to 40,000 visitors.  During our research, it became evident that there was a clear class dichotomy between year-round residents and vacationers. Further, we discovered the year round residents harboured resentment towards the summer vacation crowd and their multi-million dollar mega cottages. Many year-round residents are directly (or indirectly) employed by the vacation crowd providing maintenance services, realty, construction or working in hospitality.

 The assignment took on a political bent that we weren’t expecting. Establishing a positioning that both represented the luxe crowd’s love affair with Muskoka and the local pride of long-standing residents was a tall order. Taking a democratic approach to positioning is NEVER a good idea. We dug deep to uncover an insight that bridged the gap between the rich and working class. There was an undeniable truth that Muskoka’s beauty and natural setting is truly breath-taking. The area combines this picture of Canadian Wilderness with world-class dining, resorts, recreation and amenities. Thus, the positioning “Where spoiled meets unspoiled.” was born.

A new visual identity was developed featuring a stylized and iconic Muskoka chair. The tagline “This is the Life.”  was created and an entire identity system was rolled out including a district-wide wayfinding signage program.

The G8 Summit was a huge success and since the rebrand, National Geographic has consistently ranked Muskoka in the top 20 summer destinations worldwide.