Light on facts, heavy on patriotism, focus groups help hone NRCan advertising – by Bruce Cheadle (Maclean’s Magazine – February 18, 2013)

OTTAWA – 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.

Conservatives have been courting controversy for more than a year with a high-octane battle over pipeline development and changes to environmental laws designed to speed up major resource projects, including oil sands extraction.

Last summer, NRCan hired Leger Marketing to fine-tune the government’s proposed advertising campaign. The project included a national telephone poll of 2,000 respondents and two separate rounds of focus groups.

“The government of Canada’s natural resource policies are expected to continue to attract a high degree of public and media attention, particularly in the area of energy development,” says the Leger study’s introduction.

“This research will assist in the development of quality advertising designed to reach the maximum number of Canadians, with the most effective messaging to promote and encourage them to become better informed about the importance and impact of Canada’s energy sector on Canada’s economy and quality of life.”

The Leger report, posted last week by Library and Archives Canada, details how original concepts for the ad campaign failed to impress a dozen focus groups spread across six Canadian cities.

Pre-campaign testing in cities from Prince Rupert, B.C., and Vancouver to Quebec City and Moncton, N.B., drew reactions that the ads were too focused on western Canada, didn’t provide factual information and failed to deliver a coherent message.

Three new ad concepts were developed, with “significant modifications,” and a second round of focus-group testing proved more positive.

“While some criticisms were raised concerning the lack of ‘hard’ facts, most participants remained positive and felt reassured, which contrasted with findings from the initial set of groups,” said the Leger study.

“Participants readily understood the messages conveyed by these three ad concepts and mostly viewed them as uplifting, many spontaneously saying that it made them proud to be Canadian.”

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