What’s huge, yellow and generally regarded to be a massive waste of money? No, I’m not talking about the fact that Fox is still churning out new episodes of the Simpsons, I’m talking about Canaduck. Well, Canaduck isn’t the official name but it’s easier to write about than the unimaginative “Rubber Duck (Sculpture)” drummed up by Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman, from which Canaduck derives from. But that’s beside the point. Is Canaduck really all it’s quacked up to be? (Sorry- there are a few more of these to come).
Bobbing along at six stories tall and weighing over 13000kg, Canaduck cost the Canadian taxpayers a total of 200,000 Canadian dollars. Talk about a massive bill! (again, sorry but I can’t promise that I won’t do it again). It’s safe to say that Canaduck fairly ruffled a few feathers since its announcement in June 2017, but what did it actually do? Well, the truth is, we’re still not sure. Visitors were able to walk around inside the giant bird via a backdoor entrance that somewhat emulated the stuffing of a turkey. This peculiar design seemed to be overlooked by the media as the world seemed more perplexed by the obscurity of the bigger picture than the daft little details. But what did the duck mean? Who thought it was a good idea? And why was the world so captivated?
The minds behind the cutest 13-tonne structure in the world are the organisers of the Redpath Waterfront festival. The festival usually takes place in the penultimate weekend of June is free to all who wish to attend. The annual event’s website states that the festival intends to provide “on-land and on-water programming for people of all ages and interests with the goal of promoting Toronto locally and internationally as a premier waterfront destination”. Ok, so Toronto is a premier waterfront. Ducks like water. Now the duck existentially makes sense… right?
Wrong. A water city or not, Conservative MPP Rick Nicholls seemed personally offended by the bird, stating “As the PC Critic for Tourism, Culture, and Sport, I am not against people enjoying Canada Day festivals and festivities, but what I object to is the government funding a giant rubber duck that has no connection to Ontario or Canada”. Being publicly ridiculed by such a credible source, the geniuses who drummed up this idea must have felt like sitting ducks themselves. On the water, the duck looks calm and collected, but glance below the surface and his feet are churning a mile a minute. Nicholls clearly didn’t appreciate what this meme-worthy inflatable bird was doing to the reputation of his city on a global basis. Maybe Canada just hates the idea of being laughed at, eh?
As this inflatable structure made worldwide news, I remember laughing profusely. Only now as I sat to review the giant cutie, did I really ask myself what the duck could have stood for. A hefty sum of taxpayer’s money was thrust into this duck- could it be a satirical swipe at the Canadian government’s misuse of taxpayers hard earned money? Or was it literally just a two-hundred-thousand-dollar floating selfie partner? What did the driving forces behind Canaduck have to say about all this? Well, they claimed that the duck would boost tourism “with particular Instagram and selfie appeal”. So, there we have it. My brainpower in hoping to unearth some deeper symbolism of the duck appears to have been misplaced. It’s officially just a big duck.
There is something beautifully Canadian about Canaduck; innocent, apologetic for its own nature and, quite frankly, too nice for the United States. The instantaneous and volatile nature of the meme world allowed this gigantic bath toy to reach parts of the world that the team at Redpath Waterfront Festival had surely never dreamed of. But meme trends are as short as they are sweet. What the media didn’t tell us is that Redpath Waterfront Festival generated a record economic impact of 7.6 million dollars as well as an unbridled level of publicity for the festival. The previously labelled “cluster duck” made such a splash that the water taxi industry even saw an unexpected resurgence.
In the end, this boils down to the age-old debate of whether or not any publicity is good publicity. This was a remarkable PR stunt to follow in that it evolved from a laughing stock to a resounding success for revenue and brand awareness. Was this the plan all along? Or were there jobs on the line in the build-up to the festival? Did the brains behind the world’s largest duck foresee such a rollercoaster of publicity chockfull of political and economic commentary? Or was it just a big duck because they thought it might look cute? Returning to the previously mentioned intended goal of the festival (promoting Toronto locally and internationally as a premier waterfront destination) Canaduck, despite all its critics and cheap jokes, can surely be considered an emphatic triumph. Say what you will about our feathered friend, but one thing is for sure; it all went swimmingly in the end.
This would have been the part where I asked you all to click the link below to sign my petition to bring Canaduck to Newry to help revive the place as a premier waterfront “city” but the petition has been thrown out. UKgov.com claimed I was “probably joking”.
Needless to say, it was not a day for the ducks.
Eamon Daly is a final year BSc in Communication Management & Public Relations student at Ulster University. He can be found at: Twitter – @EamonDaly5 ; LinkedIn – linkedin.com/in/eamon-daly-608780137