Alberta Rethink Your Advertising

Now here is a gift of a lesson.  We have environmental issues, geography, tourism, economics, media literacy, advertising and propaganda, Canadian and World News, indigenous cultures and First Nations  media technology, and of course media principles.  You could even throw in mathematics and science. So lets take a look at the course material that has been provided by the Alberta Government, CBC, and the RETHINK ALBERTA campaign.

Background Information: July 2, 2010 a letter from Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach that emphasized the benefits of Alberta’s  oilsands industry to the United States was published  in a paid half-page advertisement in the Washington Post.The letter had been rejected as an opinion piece for the editorial page. The province paid $55,800 to place the ad.

Corporate Ethics International, an American based group launched a campaign against “the Alberta Tar Sands Disaster” on Wednesday July 14, 2010.  The campaign included billboards in four U.S. cities  and an online component that included a video that was also avail able on YouTube .

The groups involved include:

The Calumet Project– a church based group from Indiana

The Business Ethics Network– “the largest network of corporate campaign organizations North America”  (their claim)

EARTHWORKS Mission – a non-profit organization

Friends of the Earth Canada (FoE)

ForestEthics – a nonprofit environmental organization

Global Community Monitor – trains and supports communities in the use of environmental monitoring tools

Polaris Institute – “enable citizen movements to re-skill and re-tool themselves to fight for democratic social change’ (their claim)


Rainforest Action Network (RAN) – headquartered in San Francisco

July 16, 2010 Rethink Alberta admits that the 90-second video that said oilsands development in Alberta is destroying an area twice the size of England was incorrect. The size is the same as England, not twice the size.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010 Greenpeace demonstrators rappelled from the Calgary Tower on Tuesday, unfurling a banner denouncing what they say is a too-close relationship between the oilsands industry and the Alberta  government.

Thursday, August 5, 2010 Alberta Government responded to the negative advertisements with $268,000-campaign running in  the Winnipeg Free Press newspaper.  Advertisements in American newspapers were also run.

Monday, August 9, 2010  The  polling company Angus Reid reports that the Rethink video has had a  significant impact on public opinion.

Media Productions to consider with students:

The Billboard

The Video

Video Messages from the Alberta government can be found at: Government of Alberta on YouTube

Alberta’s Oil Sands and a variety of tourism videos can be found Travel Alberta, Canada

Here is a sample of two videos from Alberta government sanctioned sites:

Evaluation and discussion topics to consider with your students:

1. Consider the uses of AIDA, claims, and appeals.

2. What is the difference between advertising, public service messages, and propaganda ?

3. What are the biases ?

4. Basic Media Principles: What is the business interest ?  Go beyond oil companies and consider the opposing point of view.

Who is the target audience ?

How is the message shaped / reality constructed ?

What are the codes and conventions used in the different videos ?   How do these differences affect the viewer ?

What are the intended values and beliefs ?

Are there unintended messages ?

Notes to educatorsBesides the media literacy  potential there is a lot information and misinformation that could be related to other subject areas. Environmental science and statistical studies are two obvious ones. The unintentional errors or mistakes in presented data leads to lessons in research methods and accuracy.

A Final Observation: What struck me as significant in terms of media was how out of touch the Alberta government appears to be in their response.  They fall back on print media and public announcements to news outlets . They have their own channel on YouTube and encourage social media use, but they have failed to create an effective positive emotional message to counter the effective one created by Rethink.  Newsprint is not going to carry their message effectively. Depending on which side of the issue you tend to be, that is either a good thing or a serious problem.


One thought on “Alberta Rethink Your Advertising

  1. Great outline. Didn’t know AB had own YouTub channel. That seems a bit hip for AB. Reading your post has me wondering what AB Ministry of Ed has to say about resource development/environment. Thanks for post.

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