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The Ones That Mother Gives You

At first we assumed it was Scientology. After all, who else has the money to produce and purchase space for such glossy anti-pharmaceutical ads, which have been popping up all over transit shelters and buses in Ontario and Montreal? Google wasn’t much help, and their Blog Search just pointed us to other people as perplexed as we were. And poor spellers with domination fantasies.
Searches of domain registrations weren’t particularly fruitful, especially after the artist behind Obay – The Commodiphile’s Online Marketplace went out of his way to deny any association. Trademark searches with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office taught us there was once a deodorant called Obay, and no one has ever registered WhyBecauseISaidSo. (Although “Gools” at explains that that doesn’t necessarily mean these aren’t legitimate trademarks.)
2008_2_15Obay2.jpgAttempts to get in contact with the Toronto chapter of the Church of Scientology didn’t quite work out. But after we listened to the radio ad’s associated phone message at 1-800-YOU-OBAY (audio file here, transcript here), we were fairly convinced they had nothing to do with this campaign.
We finally followed a lead from Accordion Guy Joey deVilla’s blog and called up Rob Savage, the director of communications for Colleges Ontario, “an advocacy organization representing the province’s 24 colleges of applied arts and technology.” He told us, “In terms of our own marketing stuff, we’re going to be launching that in a few weeks.” We didn’t quite take this as denial, given that 24 Hours quotes a representative of CBS Outdoor (which manages the TTC—but not the shelter—ads) as saying that “The next phase will be revealed in a couple of weeks.” So we asked point blank if he knew who was behind the ads, and he replied, “You’re probably going to have to check around, I guess.” So we next tried the Ontario College Application Service, whose media guy was out of the office Friday.
Returning to the discussion on a popular Toronto tech community, we were able to track down the origin of deVilla’s source and confirm (with reasonable confidence on our part) that the responsible parties are “Ontario Colleges [which] had put together their money to run an ad campaign.” This may or may not be cryptically corroborated by some cached text on Google exclaiming, “I saw this on the bus yesterday. It’s the first part of a two part ad for some Ontario college thing. If I see the second half, I’ll take a picture of it and upload. Enjoy. Obay!” Those sentences no longer appear on, which either means Sam was mistaken or revealed something he shouldn’t have.
Top photo taken at the northeast corner of College and Queen’s Park by Jonathan Goldsbie. Photo at right taken by slam525i outside the St. Joseph’s Health Centre.

On Thursday, February 21, Colleges Ontario made their involvement in the Obay ads official. At a press conference the following Monday, February 25, they revealed the second phase of the ads, along with the reasons for them.—Ed.


  • Karen Whaley

    Damn, I really wanted it to be Scientology!

  • MariaPD

    Talk about bad spellers, it’s accordiOn, not accordiAn, geez!

  • Acadie

    I think they are funny, who ever made them must have a sense of humour. Showed my kids them and said I was looking into getting them each a prescription lol.

  • Svend

    “nip it in the bud” sounds like it’s a pill to replace female circumcision.

  • Norm Wilner

    I’m sure I saw one of these posters in New York last week, near Lincoln Center … my first thought was that it must have been left over from a movie shoot. And then I came home and found one at Dundas and Spadina.
    I am vaguely weirded out.

  • matty

    Is all of Toronto this cynical about the world?

  • Moonmoth

    I love this campaign, it’s totally brilliant!! It’s ironic as all hell! And whoever made it, has some $$, maybe it’s a Banksy piece or something.

  • jw03

    The ads have also been spotted in Montreal… could still be Ontario Colleges, this seems to make it even less likely.
    I guess only time will tell!

  • Miles Storey

    I would love these to be Banksy!

  • malocite

    I saw the ad three days ago here in Hamilton, I also wondered if it was for Scientology… but had no real clue.

  • Jaime Woo

    If it’s Ontario Colleges, it could be reaching out to get out-of-province students. Poor underfunded post-secondary institutions.

  • rek

    I saw one on the side of a bus at Ossington station yesterday. Seriously doubt it’s banksy.

  • SpupEh

    yep, they’re in the TTC subway cars too, mainly the backlit ads that run along the car but a colleague says he saw them in the bigger ones that flank the doors too.

  • sniderscion

    This is hilarious and brilliant. I’m dying to know the real story behind them now.

  • Skippy the Magical Racegoat

    Look, Smithers…GABBO is coming!
    ::runs comb through hair::

  • Gramage

    Even if it is Scientology, I still like ‘em. I’ve seen a few on the Subway. Made me smile.

  • alysswonders

    I saw this ad on the side of a bus in Barrie, ON, might support the Ontario Colleges theory since we have Georgian.

  • KingOfKensington

    I don’t know if this helps, but has a “coming soon” page on it now.
    None the less, it sparked my attention. I’m excited for the secret of obay to be revealed :)

  • infinart

    I don’t think that only Scientologists realize that that drugs that alter your “brain chemicals” are harmful and dangerous. Could be another mob???
    I really want to find out who it is!!!


    I’d like to add a bit more to that last post:
    Read this:
    I don’t know if I’d agree with my earlier statement of children’s rights.
    At the end of the above article, it states:
    One of the primary goals of public education is to teach students how to think as opposed to rote memorization of facts. Unfortunately, over the course of the last few decades, many of the administrators and teachers responsible for educating our children have chosen to teach them what to think instead. The result has been the conversion of our public school system into a publicly funded system of political indoctrination. Our children are being brainwashed.

  • agresik

    I saw a French version of this ad on a bus in Ottawa this morning. The product was called Obéir.

  • infinart

    Children have rights just as much as adults.
    It is true that the education system is stuffed and well brainwashing is rampant in the US anyways. It is easy to fool a polulation – just keep bombarding them with lies and eventually they become sheep.
    This happened 10 years ago by the way.
    Time to wake up and treat our kids as we would like to be treated – inform them about life and prepare them to clean up our crap in 10 years time.
    I am sure most of you agree.
    Still dying to know who is doing those ads!!!
    PS. If you don’t like kids don’t waste your breath writing so.

  • malocite

    …… I dunno… maybe they just used the name of someone they knew? I can’t believe that someone savvy enough to come up with this kind of a campaign would be stupid enough to use their own name for a domain registration when they are trying to stay hidden (for whatever reason).

  • AR

    It might have something to do with a government agency. Who else would have such advertising capability, and the willingness to saturate so many markets? This is just slightly less saturated than those “protect yourself from West Nile” advertisements.

  • AR

    On second thought, they’re probably just ads for…
    Lowe’s :P

  • David Topping
  • torontothegreat

    wait a second Jonny boy…
    why are you dissecting that HORRIBLE HORRIBLE eye sore of Toronto street furniture?
    Isn’t the real issue here; the toronto street furniture? Regardless of the humor of the ad?
    I guess what’s good for the gander isn’t so good for the the goose eh?

    A hypocrite is in himself both the archer and the mark, in all actions shooting at his own praise or profit.
    Author: Thomas Fuller

  • David Topping

    [Just a note on the comments: I've unpublished a few that contained personal contact information for someone unrelated to this story.]

  • thunderr

    Wait wait I’ve had an idea then I took obay . Guess what . I thought I forgot it . but i was wrong . m y idea is to enjoy it, don’t try to figure it out .it will make you very sleepy

  • phillydrifter

    Yeah, so STOP FORCING YOUR STUPID, IGNORANT, CHILDISH FANTASIES about ‘god’ or ‘yahweh’ or ‘mohammed’ on your children! You are very literally crippling them mentally at a time when they are soaking up absolutely every bit of information from you.
    Do you believe in the tooth fairy? Easter Bunny? Santa Claus?
    YOU’RE MORTAL, and so is everyone else on this planet. Stop hoping for an eternal afterlife because there isn’t one, and do what you need to do to enjoy your life NOW!

  • Jonathan Goldsbie

    I think that advertisements are fair game for coverage if the purpose of the coverage is to analyze, contextualize, or — as in this case — spoil a gimmick.
    I agree that if the post had just been “Look at these crazy new ads! I wonder who’s behind them???”, it might as well have said “You just proved bus shelter advertising works.” But because I had done some digging and was able to (correctly) identify the culprits before any other media outlet, and more than a week before they themselves had planned on spilling the beans, I like to think that I successfully demystified the ads after they had been around for only a couple days.