Branding, branding, branding: is it the Hogue Commission or Inquiry?

For people working in marketing, advertising, advocacy, public relations, government relations, or even in the news business, a common question around the table (or Zoom call or WhatsApp group) is often: what do we call this thing?

Image: Justice Marie-Josée Hogue (Jessica Garneau via Université de Sherbrooke)

Branding can reach in all sorts of places, including federal investigations. Canada’s federal inquiry into foreign interference is getting underway, with an official name of, “Public Inquiry into Foreign Interference in Federal Electoral Processes and Democratic Institutions”.

(What kind of acronym is PIFIFEPDI anyway!?)

I can give you a pro-tip that nobody is actually going to call it that, so what shall it be branded?

The traditional shorthand for these sorts of things is to name it after the individual leading the inquiry, such as Justice John H. Gomery (“The Gomery Commission”) or Hon. Paul Rouleau (“The Rouleau Commission”).


So what are Canadians calling it? A look at Google Trends of several possible options over the last day gives some clues, with a few insights already emerging:

  • General search terms, such as public inquiry, or interference inquiry, or federal commission are currently more popular than specific ones. This makes sense at this stage, since the “brand” of the inquiry (in this case, “Hogue”) has not had a chance to become established. There can also be spill-over from people looking for information on other inquiries, unrelated to Hogue.
  • On the specific Hogue brand, “Hogue Commission” is currently leading “Hogue Inquiry” by a lopsided margin. This makes sense historically, given these sorts of events are more often referred to by commission over inquiry. It also makes sense in general terms, as the word “commission” is searched for about five times more often than “inquiry”.

So if I were to provide free advice to our friends in newsrooms (or to journalists locked up on Wellington Street in Ottawa covering the Hogue Commission) who want to have their news coverage be found and understood by Canadians, I would suggest:

  • Go with “Hogue Commission”. It’s what Canadians expect this type of proceeding to be called, and it’s what they’re already looking for. Since we don’t need to reinvent the branding methodology here, and we want our news content to be found, predictability is good.
  • In your copy, include general terminology such as “public inquiry” or “federal commission”. Remember that your audience, even engaged members of it, may not be subject matter experts. Including general phrases will help more people find your reporting who don’t know the Hogue brand-name yet.
  • In general terms, by a ratio of 5:1, Canadians search for the term “commission” far more often than “inquiry”.

Of course branding goes beyond simply the question of what to call something. Brands can include symbols, sounds, ideas, and physical things. Brands evoke emotions, associations, and sometimes even behaviours. But it starts with a name.

So it’s all branding, branding, branding. And if you’re in the news media, looking to have your coverage read or watched by Canadians, it’s the difference between being lost or being found.

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