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Your Toronto 2014 Issue Navigator

How the candidates compare on some of the city's biggest issues.

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Obay Phase Two Revealed

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Phase Two of the much-blogged Obay campaign is hitting the streets, having been “unveiled” in a press conference at Centennial College this morning. Linda Franklin, President & CEO of Colleges Ontario—the advocate for the province’s 24 colleges of applied arts and technology—was there to divulge details of the “top secret” campaign. Shocker: it has to do with parental mind control.


“There is a conventional stereotype and a public perception that college is a lesser alternative to university,” Franklin said. “We seek to expose the biases held by parents that post-secondary education is a vertical hierarchy… and invite them to consider all that colleges have to offer.”
Recent research undertaken by Colleges Ontario shows that 98% of parents talk to their children about post-secondary education, that they favour university over college as the number one choice for their children by a 3–1 margin, and that almost 30% would be disappointed or embarrassed if their child went to college.
Beginning today, the Obay ads will be plastered with faux-guerilla marketing (like the one pictured above). The new stickers deliver messages to parents, such as, “Your kids should be allowed to make their own decisions, especially when it comes to their post-secondary education.” The ads point people to Ontario Colleges’ website, which has a special section devoted to the ads and the meaning behind them. It’s not revolutionary, nor should it be necessary, but it’s certainly an interesting way to tackle the academic snobbery of which colleges have long complained.
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Of course, many handclaps should go to the creative communications agency behind the Obay ads, Smith Roberts and Co. The campaign is creative in the truest sense of the word, plus it’s totally hooky (while falling just shy of hokey). We didn’t just buy it—we’re their best customer, the biggest cog in the spin machine.
And we think that’s okay. We’re not the most enthusiastic fans of advertising when it intrudes excessively on public space, offends our aesthetic sensibilities, and/or bombards us with nationalist guilt because we really, really don’t care about the new CBC lineup. But ads are also a necessary part of the urban consumerist landscape, and since they have to be there, they might as well entertain and provoke discussion.
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It seems Obay is winning on both fronts. Malcolm Roberts (pictured above), President of Smith, Roberts and Co, called the response “overwhelming,” citing hundreds of phone messages, tons of blog entries, mentions in newspapers as diverse as The New York Times, and even Facebook and Flickr groups that he swears have nothing to do with his agency (we almost believe him).
Roberts also said 90 percent of people who saw the ads believed they communicated an “insidious idea.” (Well, yeah. What we want to know is, who were the 10 percent of parents who were like, “Gosh darn, well isn’t this just the trick we’ve been waiting for? Honey, call up and see if you can order by the case!”)
Colleges Ontario hopes the wildfire reaction to the ads will spark informed dialogue between parents and students about post-secondary options. And to further fuel discussion, they’re launching three cinema ads that poke sharp-edged fun at overbearing parents and teachers. The 30-second spots can be viewed on YouTube.
Photos by David Topping. Obay ads courtesy of Colleges Ontario/FlexPR.

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