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Evan Hadfield's out-of-this-world agency sets out to brand Canada

Evan  Hadfield.

From outer space into the world, good ideas go very, very far. A video of Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield performing an acoustic cover of David Bowie's “Space Oddity” in space—produced by Evan Hadfield, the astronaut's son—put Canada on the world map for space exploration. Now, with his brand new creative digital agency, launch*pad, Evan Hadfield has taken on an ambitious mission: to amplify the voice of Canadian brands across the world.

“When we started our work, about five to six percent of the country knew that CSA meant Canadian Space Agency,” says Hadfield. “Nobody knew we had one. In fact, the number one response on our first three articles, was, Canada has astronauts? Now over 80 percent of Canadians know about Canadian astronauts and the CSA.”

In wrestling with licensing in order to allow for Space Oddity's release, in addition to the maintenance of his dad's social media presence and digital strategy, Evan Hadfield has had to navigate bureaucracies of intergalactic proportions.

“Working with dad gave me the idea of what one person can do. If I sit down and make a good campaign, I can change how people act in Saskatchewan—from here, with a keyboard,” he says.
Local art adorns the walls at launch*pad.
With launch*pad, Hadfield hopes to internationalize Canada as a concept. “We can have a campaign for every single one of our businesses that’s facing the world. When we see companies facing the world, entering new markets, if we can get their entry slightly tweaked to be a little bit better - that’s how people in that country will view Canada.”

Joining Hadfield is his launch*pad partner, Alex Shifrin, the former CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi Russia and an agency veteran with years of know-how working directly with brands such as Roots Canada, Nike, IKEA, UNIQLO, and others. Having lived abroad for most of their lives, the two quickly found common ground in discussing how Canadian businesses—from startups to large institutions like banks and oil companies—could be better at facing the world, representing and shaping the Canadian image.
Alex Shifrin of launch*pad.
Canadian companies can bolster the Canadian image overseas by drawing a link between core elements of Canada's identity and the identities of those other nations. Hadfield cites the success of Roots in Taiwan as an example.

“Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, is now a really dense city of about 20 million people,” he says. “But Taipei still remembers its roots. The rapid growth happened just recently, and the love and longing for adventure and outdoors that Roots' image represents makes the Taiwanese see Canada as an ideal Garden of Eden, a positive, idyllic force, and they respond very deeply to that image.”

He continues: “It benefits Canada that they see us as that way. Canada loves it when someone from the outside world focuses on us. If we can get more Canadian companies to stand up and receive the well-deserved praise, that’ll make us happy.”
Shifrin & Hadfield tossing ideas back & forth at the launch*pad headquarters.
Hadfield maintains that as Canadians, we must realize that when we have success online, maintain our identity, and aim messages at the world, we can have international success.

“Even though we have two languages, it’s easy to pretend that we don’t need to think about the world much. But that attitude can hurt us,” he says.

Toronto isn’t an accidental choice for launch*pad's brand new HQ in a historical building at the busy corner of Spadina and Adelaide. Landed smack in the middle of a the quickly-growing urban centre's startup core, launch*pad is proud to call Toronto home.
The launch*pad offices on Spadina.
“Here in Toronto, for the most part we respect the relationships with one another. We value the entrepreneurial culture as a frame of mind,” says Shifrin.

Starting a business here comes down to embracing that entrepreneurial culture, as well as and the greater spirit of multiculturalism. “We speak about four to five languages [between us], and that’s quite strongly common for Toronto,” says Shifrin. “Toronto is an incredibly fast growing, high tech, and intelligent city. I appreciate how people get along here.”
Hitsu socks featuring local artists. Hitsu is the brainchild of Nate Kogan & Dan Demsky. launch*pad Hadfield and Shifrin have both seen the firsthand effects our companies have on how we're perceived in the world. They think that Canadian businesses, from startups to publicly-traded companies, have good potential. Roots did really well during the Olympics, and brands like that can make a big difference in boosting the overall sales performance of associated entities.

“If you live somewhere like Russia, you can see how as an international brand they’re not doing well, and how harmful that has been to the economy,” Hadfield explains. “Even though Russians have a great university system, and they're smart, go-getters, capable, some of the world's most educated, intelligent people, the economy is not international, it’s just not working. It’s not the Russian people's fault. Russia is just so poorly branded. We then look at Canada and think, how fragile, how very fragile.”

While Canada lacks Russia's political volatility, Hadfield thinks we're not immune to a damaging case of bad international PR.

"We could easily get that poor international image, and it’ll crash us,” he warns. “We can’t depend too much on one government or another, and what it’s doing. We need to step up and be the light.”

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