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Vote Against Kids! Really?

Mary Morison, Johanna Brand

Hands up all those who saw ETFO’s Vote Against Kids TV commercials. Hands up if you refused to “Vote against Kids.”

The political advertising campaign ETFO undertook this fall was the most visible – and the most controversial – campaign the federation has ever conducted. A lot of you didn’t like it. A lot of you did. But, love it or hate it, you heard about it, talked about it, e-mailed, and called us about it. Even now, you remember it.

Starting on August 29, ETFO ran TV ads, parodies of attack ads featuring a deep male voice seemingly offended by children doing the kinds of things children do – demand to only wear pink, drink ketchup straight from the bottle, stick erasers up their noses. These kids were not saints – but they are just like the kids that teachers see in their classrooms every day.

The 15-second spots told people to vote against kids. They were deliberately mysterious – teaser ads – meant to get people to sit up and take notice. And they did! The ads received over 50,000 hits on YouTube.

Phase two of the campaign began on September 14. The 30-second ads delivered a more complete message, ending with the slogan “Refuse to vote against” The Refuse to Vote Against Kids website made available ETFO’s election platform and the parties’ positions on education, along with information about how to get on the voters list and find your riding.

In the beginning

Early on we knew that we would need to communicate with our members and the public to make education as an election issue. In the spring when campaign decisions were made, education was not a priority issue. Tim Hudak's Conservative Party was leading in the polls. In the past the party has not supported public education – quite the opposite, in fact. Past Conservative governments have vilified teachers and slashed education budgets. With the potential for a change in government we knew we needed to encourage our members to get involved and to vote. And we needed to remind the public that who they elect has an impact on education.

Not an easy task. Over half of our members began teaching after the Liberals were first elected in 2003. Many have little or no knowledge of the education records of previous governments. Public opinion surveys showed that education was not a top-of-mind issue for Ontario voters.

As you will see in Vivian McCaffrey's article on page 17, ETFO's political action work started last fall with the release of our platform Building Better Schools. We created a brochure summarizing the platform, followed by one that encouraged members to vote “because education matters.” “Because Education Matters” became the wordmark for our internal campaign. These materials were broadly distributed.

Creating awareness

The next challenge was making the public aware of ETFO and education issues. The first goal of advertising is to get your message noticed. We knew that we would have to do something innovative or we would be advertising in vain. We believed we would be wasting your money if we ran ads that everybody liked and nobody remembered.

Last spring, after requesting proposals and giving them careful consideration, we hired Smith Roberts because that agency was committed from the outset to collaborating with ETFO officers and staff in developing the campaign. The agency presented several different ideas and the ETFO team came to a consensus about which one would best meet our objectives. At each stage, the ETFO executive provided input and gave its approval.

There were several unique aspects to this campaign. We used social media as a testing ground: an online community told us everyone hates attack ads; however, everyone remembers them. We also posted the ads on YouTube and allowed viewers to comment there, as well as on our Facebook and Twitter pages. Also unique was the fact that the Refuse to Vote Against Kids website allowed people to make ads or posters using pictures of their own children. Many did.

Engaging members and the public

ETFO deliberately chose a campaign that would be controversial. As President Sam Hammond points out in his column (page 4), we chose broad parody because we wanted people to think about more than the content of the ads. We wanted them to start thinking about education and discussing it. Our goal was member and voter engagement – and that certainly happened.

ETFO provincial and local offices received phone calls and emails. We learned that the ads were talked about in campaign offices, at schools, in coffee shops, and in meetings of community organizations. There were more than 70,000 viewings of the 15-second teaser ads posted on You Tube and about 10,000 views of the 30-second reveal ads that began running on Sept. 14. From that day until Oct. 6, there were 22,552 visits to the Refuse to Vote Against Kids website with an average of 3.45 pages viewed per visit, for a total of almost 78,000 page views.

Media also paid attention. The campaign generated more media than any previous ETFO campaign: there were stories on CTV, CHCH, CBC TV and radio, in the Toronto Sun, the Toronto Star, the National Post, and Media Marketing Magazine, to name a few. Bloggers discussed it, and education became a key election issue on the Toronto Star website. At the beginning of the campaign it had barely registered.
Clearly people paid attention. Not all of the feedback was positive, and that did not surprise us. What was important was that people were engaged.

The campaign was bold and risky. And it worked.

Loved it ! Hated it! Campaign Feedback

Brilliant ads! Finally an ad which makes the public “pause” and “think”, and not get spoon fed. ETFOyou have achieved the “shock” and “ah - ha” effect!

 I have no idea what the message is supposed to be.

The campaign is smart and funny and provocative and I hope people see it for what it is – a way of getting voters to really think before they mark their ballots.

The ads are confusing, supposedly ironic, infuriating to the classroom teacher and make no sense.

I once had a brilliant teacher tell our class if we weren’t confused for a while, we weren’t learning. Out of chaos comes change. We want a change in thinking, we want people to think.

Do we want the same old kind of election where only 30% of people come out and vote and the rest stay home because nothing seems new to them. Let’s see if this stir we have caused has a positive effect. I have a little faith.

I had to look up ETFO online, as many others did, to find out what this is about.

I love the ads. But then, I confess that I like to watch most campaign ads, whether they come from the Conservatives, Liberals or NDP. And I especially like those nasty attack ads that voters insist they hate,or so they tell pollsters. Bob Hepburn, Toronto Star

The campaign was clearly created by persons with exceedingly poor judgement and taste. Thecommercial ads made little if any sense.

@burnettanthony: The best TV commercials of the election campaign are the “Vote Against Kids” adsfrom #ETFO – funny & memorable

@JasonSurgent: I voted for kids. Did you?