Searching for Mr.Canal+

Do you have a memory no one else can verify or recall but you can't let go of? I've searched for an ad I saw on television over 20 years ago that no one else remembers.

Searching for Mr.Canal+
Do you have a memory no one else can verify or recall but you can't let go of? 

This is a blog post that I've been trying to write for the last 6 months but never got around to it. I've started it at least 3 times and every time I started I'd just crumble halfway through writing it. It's a weird story about an obsessive memory. This is a story that's likely only interesting to me but I feel like I need to set this down somewhere just so I get it out of my system. Hopefully my pointless rambling here might help someone else who is also haunted by this weird memory of an TV ad from over 20 years ago.

When I was a kid I watched a lot of TV. In that respect I'm probably like every other kid that grew up in the 90's before the internet became the dominating media outlet. It was a time in my childhood where I'd just watch whatever came on, be it soap operas, crime shows, cooking shows, anything that came on before my bedtime.

As I've mentioned in previous posts, I have a deep fascination with ads and even as a kid I would search them out and get excited by every new one that I came across. I knew even then that I shouldn't be paying that much attention to advertisements and my mom would regularly remind me of how they are just manipulating people to buy things they don't need. However, even to this day, I vividly remember television ad campaigns that came on over 20 years ago and I'm regularly reminded of them. Most of the ads I remember the best were just a bit weirder than what was usually on however there was one television ad in particular that has been burnt into my mind and had a bizarre influence on my life. For years it was like my own personal version of the Candle Cove creepypasta that I couldn't forget.

One weekday night in the late 1990's, the sun had set and it was late in the evening. I think the 6 or 7 o'clock news had just ended and ads were playing. I was watching them as I usually did until suddenly an ominous background track began playing. It looked like the beginning of documentary was beginning and a calm voice began to describe a mysterious man who has been sighted all over the world. No one knew who he was but a young guy was searching for him. This guy had collected pictures and reports of sightings over the years and was trying to understand who he was and what he was doing. He had even been able to get a piece of footage of the mystery man walking onto a film set, ruining the shot, but everyone was happy to see him anyway. Who was this mysterious man and what was he trying to do? There is a shot of the man's masked face, a grim, frightening rubber mask with two dark black holes for eyes and a permanent, eerie grin. The ad then tells you to ask about the Canal+ cable movie channel.

It likely lasted about a minute and a half but the ad had filled my mind with wonder. I knew it was an advertisement but something about it felt real, as if this Canal+ guy was actually walking around and making his presence known. If nothing else, I loved the idea of it and wanted it to be true. I needed to see this ad again so I spent the rest of the evening and night watching shows I thought were boring just to get to see the ads. Unfortunately, the ad did not replay and I stayed glued to the television most nights just to get a glimpse of the mysterious advertisement, just to see it one more time.

It's seems to me that every time I try to catch an ad I actually want to see, it never comes back on. Unlike regular programming, there are not schedules for when TV ads are going to be played, you just need to get lucky or develop a sense for when certain ads get played. Suffice to say I never saw the TV ad again but weird billboard ads were appearing around outside with shots from famous movies where in a corner of the picture you could see the masked face of the Canal+ man. Even in the mail an advertisement with his grim face came through and I took the ad and hid it to look at once in a while. As time went by, the campaign ended and my attention shifted to other things but every few years I would remember that weird feeling I got when I first saw that Canal+ ad, savoring the memory of confusion and mystery.

The moment I saw this scene in the Matrix, I was reminded of the mysterious ad I had seen years earlier. 

As time went by, the memory faded but didn't quite disappear. Once in a while I would see a bizarre ad on television or at the movies, like David Lynch's or Chris Cunningham's ads for the Playstation 2 and I would begin thinking about this commercial again. When I first saw the Matrix, there was a scene where Neo was searching for Mopheus and as Neo was sleeping by his computer you could see fuzzy pictures of Morpheus pass by. The first thing I thought of when I saw this was this Canal+ advertisement. As I got older, I'd watch David Lynch movies that again evoked that mysterious feeling that I had first experienced seeing that TV ad.


At some point, the memory was so faded it felt it was just a vivid dream. Since no one I knew really cares about ads in the same way I did, I was the only one who remembered the ad ever being aired. I was alone with this weird memory and had no one to share it with, let alone reassure me that it was an actual memory of something that happened in the real world. It was the first time I experienced how frail the past is. There are major events we all remember and that get written in history books but the little memories that make up most of our lives are not documented in any way. Most of the important events in your life will have others experiencing them with you and you'll have a community to re-enforce and guard those moments but there will always be little things that you will be the sole witness. Then you will be alone, guarding that fading memory, no matter how important it is to you. It's haunting.

Many years later, in my mid to late 20's, I began to experience my first bouts of nostalgic reminiscing. It doesn't take too many beers with old friends to begin remembering how things were when you were kids and then start getting wrapped up in that glow.  It's with a bit of sadness that I realized that I'm not immune to the pull of nostalgia that I saw gripping my mom and grandparents growing up. It was odd but mostly boring to hear about their memories of the past as they listened to old songs on the radio. Now I was beginning to recollect my own life once in a while, likely boring anyone that was trapped in conversation with me.

What made things different though was now I had access to the internet. The internet had grown over the years and around 2015-2017 YouTube had grown into a massive video archive with pretty much anything you could hope to look for. People were uploading old television programs, old music videos and even forgotten media like training videos for companies that didn't exist anymore and footage from home video cameras.

It was at this time I thought there might be a chance to find this ad again and finally see it a second time.

Unfortunately I couldn't find it right away on YouTube. I then began using Google to find it, trying different keyword combinations but time had robbed me of any details I might have had. Besides the plot of the ad all I remembered was that the ad was aired in the late 90's or early 00's and that it was for either Canal+ or Filmnet. I would spend about an hour trying different combinations of keywords until I would get tired and painfully try to forget about it.

This would continue for years. Every 6-9 months I would try again, putting in the same combinations of keywords in with no success. I began to find new forums full of people like me looking for lost things. On Reddit, I found /r/lostmedia along with /r/tipfofmytongue where I'd ask if anyone remembered this ad, but with no success. Browsing these subreddits is a lot of fun itself even if I never did find what I was looking for. I feel this connection to all the users posing questions about things that they struggle to remember, trying to find anyone else that could tell them that what their memories are valid and they are not alone. It was around this time as well that I first began to seriously use the Internet Archive and the WayBack machine to not only feed my desire for nostalgia by visiting old versions of my favorite sites but to also find all kinds of lost games and books that I had long thought lost to time.

After 5 years, I was no closer to finding this ad. It was becoming a weird story I would share once in a while during lunch at work or over beers with friends and to me it seemed that I was going never going to see this ad every again. It would only ever live on as a story I told sometimes. The irony that this ad features someone that was himself obsessively searching for someone wasn't lost on me. The surrealness of the whole thing was beginning to make me think I was misremembering all of it anyway and hoped that my obsession with the ad would melt away into the inky darkness of oblivion at some point.

Nonetheless, I persisted. Some years later I found advertisement archives like AdsOfTheWorld and AdForum that were advertisement archives. I was very grateful to see people were actually caring for ads and trying to archive them to some degree. Advertisements are not really seen as valuable media after all and it's not very easy to come across old ads unless you're really looking for them. It's a link to the past that I only every really came to appreciate once I started visiting these kinds of archives.

AdsOfTheWorld in all it's splendor.

Even within these archives, I couldn't find the enigmatic advertisement. I found plenty of Canal+ and Filmnet ads, but not the one I was looking for. It made me question myself yet again: if there are so many ads here, even for the company I'm recalling ran the ad in the first place, why can't I find it even here? Is this all a waste of time and energy? Despite my doubts, I couldn't dismiss my own memories as fraudulent or even heavily distorted by time. On some deep level, I knew what I remembered was true and even if I could never verify this, just for my own sake, I needed to keep my memory alive. To anyone else, even to my own rational mind, it's clear that holding on to a vague recollection for what was now over two decades is pretty odd. Why care about something as trivial as a TV ad? Why would something like that even come to mind at all? It's lunacy, with the only reward being that you either realize you misremembered the whole thing or at best you get to watch a TV advertisement again. Aren't there better things to worry about in the world?!?!

Despite all of this, I had to continue on the quest. The mystery of the ad captivated me to a point where I knew I'd search for it as long as I could and if nothing else I'd keep it alive as a pointless tale I'd tell. I also enjoyed having such a frivolous side mission I could pick up once in a while. The itch to search only came about every few months and I could live with the consolation that this minor work in my life would remain unfinished. It was a phantom I could grasp at when I wanted to remember and relive a memory of something weird and mysterious.

I bookmarked every ad archive I found and researched them regularly. I went to lost media forums and sites as well as reworded my queries any way I could think of. I realized that likely I would never find the ad by describing it in a search bar, so I began focusing my searches to look for Canal+ or Filmnet ads on ad archives or search for new ad archives I hadn't come across before.

In the end of last year in September, I came across an ad archive called AdsSpot by looking for ad archives on DuckDuckGo. I started my search by looking for Canal+/Filmnet ads and just started the slow process of going over each one. The excitement of searching had long ago faded into becoming a grim dutiful slog, just going over every thing I could so I can tell myself that I had searched everywhere. Then on a fall afternoon as the sun was streaming into my bedroom, I finally found it.

The ad was call MR CANAL+ and originally aired in the Nordics in 1998. The agency that made it was DDB Stockholm and to my amazement, they had the whole TV ad in their archive.

Here it is if you want to watch something that captivated my mind for over 20 years.

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My memory of the ad matched up with the video extremely well. The guy talking about his search for the mysterious masked figure, his connections to the movie industry, even the part about the ruined movie shot. I think if anyone watches this ad now, they can understand why it had such a lasting impression on me at the age of 11 or 12.

Did you every see this ad when it ran in the late 1990's?

I probably watched the ad 20 times over the first week of finding it. This minor achivement was so deeply satisfying to complete and finally put to rest. I have tried to find more about this ad and have gone through print archives over the past few months looking for print ads or pictures of the billboards they had with the same character. I have also sent multiple messages to people at DDB Stockholm to inquire if they have something about this campaign in their own archives but I have not recieved any answer.  


There's something in me that admires and desires compulsive searching. I think everyone has this hankering to some degree, it's the drive that keeps people going when things get difficult and you can't find answers immediately.  The allure of a mystery draws people in their millions all over the internet. Recent examples of this are things like finding out who and where the Satoshi picture was taken.

Find Satoshi was a internet mystery for years. (Image from https://findsatoshi.com/)

Watching this ad over again got me to think about the whole trope of searching for a mysterious person. We all know how this looks visual: grainy pictures, newspaper clippings, a person by a computer or hunched over files, a cork bulltin board with pinned up cards attached to strings. I couldn't find anything on tvtropes.org but I'm hoping to find more about this in the future.

The X-Files had a marked and unhealthy effect on how I see the meaning of life.

Having something to pour all of my attention is something I feel like I deeply need. There's a simplicity to life when all your time goes into one simple objective of figuring something out. Even if what I'm searching for is pointless and unimportant in the grand scheme of things, the obsession blurs all that out. The seeking is a goal in itself: actually finding what I'm after is as much a tragedy as it is a success.  


This last month, McDonald's in Finland has run a campaign called The Icon that follows many of the same beats as the Mr.Canal+ ad. It too stars a man who is obsessively searching for someone. It employs many of the same tropes, such as a board with information pinned to it and an exhaustive search for a person who had a massive influence on the world. The ad is a lot more whimsical and has a lighter tone that Mr.Canal+. Oddly enough, it was designed by Nord DDB Helsinki, a part of the same company that made the original Mr.Canal+ ad. I can't help but feel that there is some sort of connection here and I crave to know more about this. Hopefully someday I can get some closure regarding all of this and figure out why I'm so fascinated by ads about searching for mysterious people.  


If you have a weird memory of something long lost, send me a message about it if you want to share the burden.