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 Star website.
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.