hile strolling through some of the GTA’s more heavily trafficked areas this fall it may have been hard to not notice some advertising that utilized, well, questionable subtlety. 

These advertisements were the recent brainchild of the Government of Alberta — purpose-built promotions that either showcased simple imagery of Alberta living or plain text that beckoned the promise of affordable housing. 

These visual advertisements were mainly prominent in transit stations and pedestrian walkways. 

While this recent push on the behalf of the westward province may seem sudden, logistically, it’s not completley out of the wheelhouse of common provincial recruitment strategy. Toronto has been enduring a suffocating affordable housing crisis, one that shows no signs of slowing down and one that the rest of the country is taking notice of. 

As a result of this, former Alberta premier Jason Kenny launched the Alberta is Calling initiative this past September, an advertising endeavour designed to function as a siren song for skilled workers to move, work and live in Alberta. This advertising push also lined up with the reformatting of the Alberta government itself, as just this past October, Danielle Smith took over for Kenny as premier of the province. 

Smith’s opinions have been controversial, to say the least, setting the tone in her first week in office by stating the unvaccinated are the highest calibre of persecuted individuals within the country. 

This collision of rhetoric and timing has some pondering if this downpour of provincial promotion within the GTA is more than just a coincidence.

Dr. Albena Pergelova is the Associate Professor and Board of Governors Research Chair at MacEwan University’s School of Business in Edmonton, Alberta. 

She holds an expansive insight when it comes to the nature of advertising spheres and was able to connect some dots between this advertising push and the shifting topography of Alberta politics. 

“The timing and the fact that the government is doing it clearly speaks to the fact that they are trying to attract certain kinds of people to the province,” says Dr. Pergelova.

This immense advertising sweep to attract Torontonians to the joys of provincial life was implemented using government funds — and it is in fact — raising some eyebrows in regard to how taxpayer money is used by provincial mechanisms. 

“The intent behind it is very difficult to guess but it is a curious investment, it is ultimately public money that they have used to fund this. They have chosen to use public money in this way, whether there is a visible return on investment in this would be curious to see,” says Dr. Pergelova. 

While this may seem an odd use of taxpayer money, its implementation is boilerplate in terms of execution. 

“Honestly, I think whatever they are doing is what any company would do when they buy billboard space. I can’t imagine any other particular moves that would be made save for making sure whatever they portray in the advertising isn’t unethical or unlawful,” says Dr. Pergelova.

Dr. Pergelova has seen this type of marketing before on an international scale, comparing the current tactics employed by Alberta to Canadian advertising strategies in Europe, which also encouraged citizens to find employment and stability here in the great white north.

She notes that this specific type of promotion is what is known in the world of marketing as ‘place advertising.’ This format ranges from traditional tourism incentives to recruitment advertising that we are seeing with the Alberta is Calling campaign.  

As for the what the main locations of these advertisements were, the bulk of them were located in the Bloor-Yonge subway station and other transit points of interest.

This is no coincidence.“The placement is clever from an advertising perspective, they want to grab the attention of people who are in traffic, travelling or trying not to be late to work. This works because if you were advertising in a magazine or newspaper or social media, people will not be as impacted when compared to a place that is traditionally uncomfortable,” says Pergelova. 

In Pergelova’s eyes, there is no better place to appeal to the simplicity of provincial life than a major junction point in Canada’s largest public transportation system.

However, unlike traditional tourism advertising, these billboards aren’t calling out to the commuter to enjoy a simple weekend in the Rockies. They’re urging one to uproot their life on the gamble of safety that Alberta is promising. 

However, such a gamble may be innately moot, as the housing crisis that was once confined to larger metropolitan areas in Canada has begun to spread throughout the country

Whether any sort of exodus of Torontonians to Alberta will occur remains to be seen, and even more so, lies on the head of the current government in Alberta to be transparent if it does. 

As Dr. Pergelova said, “you should be able to measure it in some way if you want to justify this to the public.” 

Photos courtesy of Abdul Malik and Farris Sobhani.

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Nov 27, 2022
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