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ETFO Campaigns to Highlight Education (From the President)

Sam Hammond

Earlier this year ETFO leaders took a bold step: we approved a controversial public relations campaign  to run during the provincial election campaign.

The campaign was launched in late August with  a  series   of   15-second  television  spots, which urged viewers to “Vote Against Kids.” If you are reading this column it’s unlikely that you have not seen the ads. It’s equally unlikely that you don’t have an opinion about them. “Unusually  adventurous  for  a  teacher  federation,” was how one commentator described the campaign. And, yes, it was.

In the spring when we decided to undertake the campaign  education was not an election issue. Our goal was to change that: we wanted to  make  education  a  priority  issue  during the provincial election campaign. We wanted people to think about how important a strong public education system is for our children and for the future of our province.

Like  other  teacher  federations  we  have done our share of heart-warming ads featuring charming children. But faced  with a potential change  in  government, faced  with  the  prospect of a return to a government whose focus would  likely be slashing budgets and services, we knew we had to do something different. We asked several advertising agencies to  show us how we might achieve our goals.

The agency we chose, Smith Roberts, had done a number  of  innovative campaigns featuring ‘head snap’ ideas, ideas  designed to get attention and provoke conversations.

The head snap ads they created for us were parodies of election attack ads. They featured a deep male voice pretending to express outrage at  kids doing  kid-like things. We knew  that by going in this direction we were definitely outside the box. By choosing broad parody, we were asking people to look beyond the content and to think about the meaning and intent of the ads.

Many  people  were  engaged. As  you  will see in the article on page 14, there were more than 70,000 views of the ads on You Tube. The Refuse to Vote Against Kids website had more than  75,000  page  views. We  received  phone calls and emails. People told us that they were talking  about  the  ads  with  parents,  friends, neighbours, and colleagues. They were sharing their  confusion,  their  support  and,  in  some cases, their outrage. A number of media stories featured our campaign. Education became the a key issue on the Toronto Stawebsite.

The ads clearly upset some ETFO members and members of the public. I understand their concern and  respect their opinions. However, we  also  know  that  without  controversy  we would  not  have  achieved  our   goal:  to  get people talking, asking questions, and thinking.

Our campaign gave us a high profile, and it boosted the profile of education as an election issue.  Although  we  have  a  minority  government, education-friendly candidates are in the majority. When  your  executive  approved  this  campaign we knowingly took a risk – and we did it for the sake of public education and, ultimately, for our members.