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Obay Unveiled

Since fake pharmaceutical ads for a drug called “Obay” starting appearing across Ontario (and elsewhere) last week, everyone from street artist Frank Shepard Fairey (aka OBEY) to Scientologists to comedian Maggie Cassella has been fingered as the culprit behind them.
Last Friday, three days after the ads seem to have launched, we traced them, with no small amount of confidence, to a substantially less dramatic source––Colleges Ontario, an advocacy organization representing twenty-four colleges across the province. The organization would neither confirm nor deny their involvement to either Torontoist or, several days later, The Star, but still told us all to wait a few weeks for…something. As far as mysterious ad campaigns go, this one was almost perfect: only breadcrumbs to trace back to the source, a city left to talk about the ad and its message and what it all meant (which, of course, was precisely the point).
But it’s finally official: Rob Savage, Colleges Ontario’s Director of Communications, called Torontoist moments ago to confirm that Colleges Ontario is indeed behind the ads, and the organization just sent out a press release with information about a media launch event next Monday at (fittingly) Centennial College that promises to reveal “the news behind Obay and its side effects on Ontario’s Post-secondary Education.” Torontoist will be there.
Photo by sniderscion from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.


  • Ninjabot

    The ads seem kinda silly to me, considering that a sizable amount of students have their educations paid for by their parents. If I was an administrator of one of the represented schools, I don’t think I’d be pleased with this campaign.
    Then again, maybe enough parents will be irked just enough to not pay for their kids’ university educations, forcing students to pay the bills themselves, and thus actually give a modicum of a shit about their grades. Some of the papers handed over by my wife’s students are comedies of the most horrific proportions.

  • matty

    I don’t get it.

  • Val Dodge

    Then again, maybe enough parents will be irked just enough to not pay for their kids’ university educations, forcing students to pay the bills themselves, and thus actually give a modicum of a shit about their grades.

    I think that’s kind of the point: a lot of people go to university not because they especially want to, but because their parents tell them they have to (and are willing to pay for it). The ads are setting colleges up as a choice you make for yourself rather than blindly following your parents’ dreams for you.

  • JasonR

    Ummm, I think you guys are thinking about this a) perhaps a little too subjectively and 2) without an eye to what the ad is trying to accomplish or who it’s trying to reach. It’s likely not the rich university crew, who will most likely ignore it and keep taking their parents’ cash. And the idea that the parents’ would be offended is essentially nonsensical, to the point of being absurd.
    Having said that, the ad still doesn’t work. Here’s why:
    The whole thing is predicated on the idea that young people will look at the ad, realize it isn’t real or serious, and try to figure it out.
    The SERIOUS FLAW? Why would anyone between the ages of 16-30 (who isn’t interested in advertising for the fun of it or some sort of design nerd) spend longer than a microsecond looking at a drug ad? Answer: They wouldn’t and they won’t. Esp. with the proliferation of “oh-my-god-I’m-gonna-die-quick-help-me” ads directed at Boomers, most people in the other less-represented demographics of Canadian society have learned to glaze over, and ignore Big Pharma. We’re just not the target market for these images, and not amount of cleverness can change that.

  • MaryDunne

    I don’t think the ad is aimed at young people. I think it’s aimed at parents. Some of the ads have been posted in areas that young people don’t generally spend much time in (Bay Street, University Ave, the underground PATH), but their parents do. Guess we’ll have to wait to find out the rest of the message. Maybe it’s something like: Forcing your kid to study something they don’t care about won’t work out in the long run, and it’s a very expensive way to fail.

  • matty

    I honestly thought they were talking about prozac and medicating their children.

  • Septimus

    I knew that it couldn’t have been the Scientologists! Sure, it had the requisite anti-pharmaceutical overtones, but it had way to much of an emphasis on freethinking.

  • Robin Rix

    There is an excellent TV commercial now playing in Britain on this subject:

  • antiboy

    I also don’t get it.

  • Aluscia

    I wouldn’t be surprised if the message was one I’ve lived myself: parents, grandparents, friends, the media all want you to go to University. College is often seen as a second choice, or a contingency plan if you can’t make it into University, and I think that mentality needs to change. Too much time and money in our society is wasted with university students who have no idea what they want to study or why they’re even there… only that they’ve been told it’s where they should be by their parents, or even so far as been told what to major in by said parents.
    Interesting conspiracy, I’m a little sad that the answer was revealed so quickly however.

  • ysdn

    so good.

  • strangehold

    Ah, some closure. My long national nightmare is finally over.

  • McEVIL

    It’s completely about the perceptions of colleges and universities from the eyes of the parents that is being addressed here. If you look at statistics for college enrollment, there is a significant number of students who have already completed a university level degree who are now studying at the college level to develop career focused skills.
    Most parents, and people in general, still look at colleges for what they used to be: an alternative to universities designed to meet the needs of their individual communities, as opposed to what they are in today which is a suitable if not viable choice in creating a tangible career path students.
    When I found out this ad campaign was by Colleges Ontario, it made me proud to know that I am a college graduate, and that these folks finally got there stuff together to make a compelling ad campaign that got people talking like this. Way to go, ACAATO.

  • Enthusiast

    Maybe it’s more of an industry ad.
    To me, it’s better communicating the approach of the agency that created it than it is persuading us of the actual cause.

  • Evil Wizard

    Dear God, you people can’t recognize a culture jam when you see one. What, are you over 40?
    No conspiracy, no motive, no colleges, all commentary. We’re becoming a nation of lightweight idiots living in borrowed fear. Its time to snap out of it people! Responsibilities not jobs! Thought not heuristics!
    I’ll suggest that if you don’t “get” this meme, you are in one of the groups being made fun of.
    - a message from Anonymous

  • SuperTina

    Thank you Anonymous! Lol
    I’ve been going on about this since I seen in on a bus coming home from work… I definitely see cuture jamming here & I’m so glad it’s close to home.
    It’s getting people talking. We’re interested, because who would make such an advert and be serious about it? Although that is what things like Ritalin say… And furthermore, the action of medicating our children because of their behavior. Kids are suppose to be defiant, ask questions, run wild… that’s being a kid. To medicate them for that is absurd.
    The one thing more absurd than trying to control a child’s behavior through medication is the fact WE SEE NOTHING WRONG WITH IT.
    Information is the only thing we can give people & that’s all this “ad” is doing.

  • EricSmith

    I saw an ad from the French version of this campaign on a bus in Ottawa on Friday. The translation is about as direct as you could make it. In French, it’s called “Obéyir,” playing on the verb obéir, to obey, and it’s from the makers of “ParCeQueC’estMoiQuiDécide” (“BecauseIt’sMeWhoDecides”). The copy was something like, “My teen no longer has his own goals. Obay works like a charm!”

  • jadenaa

    This is really funny. I LOVE when any entity does something intellectually stimulating and challenges society. I am so tired of the PC boring scared numb people who have nothing to say.
    The funny thing to me is that I have to ask: Is it a serious ad or not? when I see stuff like that because…
    One time, there was an ad on TV that I was SURE was a joke. It was all creepy and weird and went on for like 2 days about the negative side effects, you know, nothing major: could cause death, wiener to fall off, tit cancer, little things like that… and what do you get for taking the drug? You can wake up in the morning and WANT to go to work – yay! You can even maybe say hello to your neighbor and have an inspirational dog walk. Boy oh boy. Might as well be a suicide pill with those side-effects – and if you need a pill like that to walk your F’n dog… Seriously.
    Maybe the TV ad exec team was mocking the drug company that employed them – who approved the ad: Oh yeah, that looks great.
    I can’t wait to find out why the college is putting out that ad, but for its spirit, I LOVE IT!!
    All I can think of is that drugs numb people to what’s wrong in their lives and keep ‘em moving in society and doing the normal expected track… To me, this ad says, BE YOUR OWN PERSON, don’t be like your parents, take our art and music and advertising and computer classes and be DIFFERENT from your parents. Don’t be a shrink or a doctor or a lawyer. If your parents put you on meds, basically they suck and you should do anything in your power to be nothing like them.

  • gracebolt

    Fake pharmaceutical drugs?? Its a shock!

  • Elisa Jed

    That is funny. A bit odd for the colleges in Newfoundland to be behind it but I guess it definitely is a statement.