After a rough year of collapsing oil prices and the embarrassing dethroning of Alberta’s longtime Progressive Conservative government, the oil and gas industry could use a win. The latest campaign from the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) was probably designed to be one.
Developed as part of CAPP's ‘Energy Citizens’ movement, the ‘Raise your Hand’ campaign is well-designed and clearly expensive. Online and off, it features smiling multiracial faces with hands raised — overlayed with hand-drawn outlines of patriotic maple leaves. There are cheerful videos, interactive bus shelter ads and an online submission form to stay connected. It even has a hashtag (#ryhcanada), the extremely limited Twitter impact of which must be giving at least one advertising executive an ulcer right now.
As Mark Hume noted in the Globe and Mail this weekend, an ad campaign that attempts to co-opt patriotism for its own ends is hardly something new. NGOs have done it for years. So have McDonalds, Molson's beer and Roots. And yet, as Hume says, “CAPP’s slogan — 'Raise your hand because you are proud of Canada’s oil and natural gas' — doesn’t quite have the same ring as one that urges you to raise your hand against racism, ignorance or disease.”
Hume writes that the campaign could have been more successful, had it not been launched in the same week as a massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, which reminded “Canadians — and especially British Columbians where two new oil pipelines are proposed — what happens when one of those .001-per-cent accidents happen.”
I’m not so sure.
While the campaign is not a failure on par with the spectacular collapse of BC Ferries ‘#NameAFerry’ contest, its inability to spark public enthusiasm is not surprising. Even without the Santa Barbara oil spill, it’s reasonable to wonder if pipelines and patriotism fit together as naturally as the industry would have us believe. After all, it’s hard to raise our hands in blind allegiance when the failures and questionable behaviour of industry executives are so hard to ignore.
- Raise your hand if you remember that two years after it became public, CNRL is still unable to stop a slow leak at its Cold Lake in-situ drill site.
- Raise your hand if you recall how Plains Midstream — the Canadian analogue of Plains All American (the company whose failed pipeline spilled all that oil in Santa Barbara) — was fined $1.3 million for two giant pipeline spills in Alberta and was recently ordered to undergo an independent review of their safety procedures?
- Raise your hand if you remember how the industry leaders in oil and gas fought hard to keep employing temporary foreign workers, limiting opportunities for those smiley Canadians featured so prominently in their advertising?
- Raise your hand if you’re doubtful of the capabilities of Western Canada Marine Response Corporation touted by CAPP in the campaign after its slow response to Vancouver's relatively minor English Bay oil spill?
- Raise your hand if you saw the news this week that federal Industry Minister Greg Rickford spoke to an October 21, 2014 closed-door meeting of CAPP executives encouraging them to "work harder and spread the message of the oil industry?"
I could go on.
If recent polling is correct, 72 per cent of Canadians want to see more jobs created in the renewable energy industry. Fifty-eight per cent of Canadians go even further, wanting to see oil and gas use phased out in favour of renewable solutions. And even the Harper government has publicly acknowledged that climate change demands at least a little immediate attention.
So to the folks at CAPP and their marketing agency of record, may I humbly suggest an edit to your ask? Something a little more measured, a little more Canadian.
Raise your hand if you acknowledge that while oil and gas and other extractive industries are a big part of the Canadian energy mix now, they don’t have to be forever. That pipelines fail and transporting oil and gas is inherently dangerous. That if Canadians want to meet our climate goals without having to buy carbon credits from other countries, we need to start investing more in renewables.
Raise your hand if you agree we all deserve a more nuanced conversation about Canada's energy future.
Image Credit: CAPP