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Look away

February 18, 2013

If you’re a government wanting the public to look away while the environment gets ravaged by controversial projects such as Alberta’s tar sands and major oil pipeline projects, what do you do?

Apparently, you try to shift the gaze. Instead of keeping the lens focused on this…

Syncrude Oil Operations in Alberta Tar Sands

…you hire a marketing firm. You do a series of focus groups with Canadians. You show them pretty pictures of the country’s most majestic natural habitats. You talk about “restoring developed lands”. You overlay some inspirational music.

And when your marketing firm tests it with focus groups, you discover people don’t feel badly anymore. They feel a sense of national pride. Because who doesn’t love Canada’s natural beauty? You reframe environmental degradation as “responsible resource development”.

Kind of like what this ad does …

Now consider this news story entitled Light on facts, heavy on patriotism, focus groups help hone NRCan advertising. It exposes the mechanics behind ads like this.

Quoting directly from the Canadian Press story:

“Focus-group testing on what the Harper government calls its Responsible Resource Development campaign found the advertising to be light on facts but uplifting and patriotic, according to a government-commissioned study.

“The fruits of that taxpayer-funded labour will again be on display this spring as a second wave of ads — designed to persuade Canadians of “the importance and impact of Canada’s energy sector” — hits the air.

“Natural Resources Canada has budgeted $9 million in the current 2012-13 fiscal year for ads that show a cross-section of resource industries in a job-friendly and environmentally sensitive light.

“It’s a carefully calibrated exercise.”

Now, try to look away.

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