City transit ads stealing a page from Stephen Harper playbook

The Stephen Harper government has spent hundreds of millions of public dollars on a propaganda campaign aimed at bolstering the Stephen Harper brand. Apparently, someone from the city of Edmonton has been paying attention, because we are now seeing a peculiar propaganda campaign using city tax dollars. Exactly what they’re promoting is another question.

If you watch any TV, you’ve seen the Harper government ads; they’re the ones that end with the first four notes of the national anthem. They are so ubiquitous, I’ve grown to hate the national anthem — or at least the first four notes. Every major TV event — the Grey Cup, the Super Bowl, the Academy Awards  — feature the ads. Last year alone, the Harper government spent $14.8 million advertising ‘Canada’s Economic Action Plan’, despite the fact that the ‘Economic Action Plan’ ended two years ago. The government has spent a staggering $100 million on ‘action plan’ ads since 2009. The government, of course, describes the ads as useful for letting Canadians know what the government is doing for the economy. In reality, of course, the message is really ‘look what Stephen Harper has done for you!’ Tax credits for everyone! Thank you, glorious leader.

Harper loves TV ads. The Harper government (a common phrase even on government internal correspondence) spent another $8 million on a campaign criticizing Canada’s wireless sector. Sure, everybody hates the cell phone companies — it’s the easiest possible target for a government selling itself as middle-class friendly — but I’m pretty sure there has never been a government ad campaign that directly criticized private industry. (Can you imagine the government running an ad campaign blasting the oil companies for the price of gasoline? Not a chance.) The new series of ads tout changes to the wireless industry, saying it’s better than ever — thanks to the Harper government.

Then there was the $2.5 million spent on the Canada Jobs Grant program — which didn’t even exist. (Advertising Standards Canada concluded the ads were misleading, forcing the government to drop the campaign.) Millions are being spent on campaigns for the government’s multiple penny-ante tax credits, which will save a few middle-class families maybe $20 on their tax bill.

The worst example of propaganda so brazen Kim Jong-un could take notes from it is 24Seven, a web channel devoted to all things Stephen Harper. It features ‘exclusives’ of the prime minister in action, each one beginning with a few notes from ‘The Maple Leaf Forever’. It’s both enraging and hilarious at the same time.

DSC02329Now let’s get to the City of Edmonton.

The city transportation department campaign began a couple of weeks back, coincidentally when it looked like the provincial government might not give Edmonton millions for the insanely expensive LRT, Mayor Don Iveson’s pet project. The ads essentially promoted the multi-billion dollar LRT build, a clear attempt to convince taxpayers that not only is LRT worth the money, but they should push the province for the cash.

Now the campaign has changed. Huge ads in the Journal (three-quarters of a page) and the Sun (full page) are headlined “We move you”, and feature less than 70 words of boilerplate promo. The ads contain no information at all, no ‘call to action’ as they say in the advertising biz. The ads seem designed to say that the city has a department of transportation — and that’s it. (I was in Safeway on Saturday, and lo and behold, there was a city transportation ad on those plastic dividers you use to keep your groceries separate from the other customer’s.)

I’ve noticed that city propaganda ads seem to have jumped since Iveson became mayor. I hope it’s coincidental. And I also hope that one of our bottom-line oriented city council members (Mike Nickel, maybe? Tony Caterina? Hey, Michael Oshry, you’ve been quiet.) will ask some pointed questions of the city’s transportation department. I’d start with ‘why are you spending public money letting the public know there is a department of transportation?’

There seems to be no stopping the Stephen Harper propaganda express, but maybe we can derail the transportation department’s ‘hey, look at us’ campaign.

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One thought on “City transit ads stealing a page from Stephen Harper playbook

  1. I don’t think Stephen Harper has a monopoly on advertising. It wouldn’t be Harper-style unless it lauded how amazing Iveson is and cast vicious ad hominem attacks on drivers.

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