Carbon tax gets the fake news treatment in online campaign

Who: Canadians For Clean Prosperity, Republic, Ostrich Algorithm.

What: “#YouCantFakeFacts,” an online awareness campaign intended to “correct the record” and highlight facts surrounding Canada’s carbon tax. The films were written and produced by Patrick Scissons, co-founder, CEO and chief creative officer of The Ostrich Algorithm.

When & Where: The campaign broke this week, with an emphasis on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. With a budget of approximately $200,000, it is the first major ad campaign for the five-year-old organization.

Why: Because the carbon tax is specifically designed to combat climate change, which Michael Bernstein, executive director of Canadians for Clean Prosperity, says is “the most critical issue facing humanity.”

While the carbon tax is currently getting its “15 minutes of fame,” both as an election issue and as a target of conservative leaders such as Ontario premier Doug Ford, Bernstein says it is still not widely understood.

“A lot of people have heard the term, they understand it’s something to do with climate change, but that’s about it,” says Bernstein. “They know the word tax means ‘It’s going to cost me money and I don’t like it,’ so it means they’re already biased towards the kind of attacks that are being waged against the policy.”

With Conservative Party of Canada leader Andrew Scheer vowing to repeal the federal carbon tax if elected, the upcoming federal election will be a referendum on climate change, says Bernstein.

How: The campaign includes a series of videos focusing on a fictitious news organization called “FAKE News,” which is working to suppress information about how the carbon tax can benefit the environment and Canadians.

In a 60-second spot that anchors the campaign, a Rupert Murdoch-esque media baron—played by veteran Canadian actor Frank Moore—is presented with information about how a similar tax on sulphur helped the U.S. reduce acid rain by 34%. He responds by telling an employee to put “the bots on it” as a tactic to drown out the facts with misinformation.

A series of 15-second shorts show the media baron presented with other facts about the carbon tax, such as 8 of 10 people will benefit from the carbon tax and that everyone gets a carbon tax rebate. In each case, he responds “How are we gonna fake our way out of this?”

“Facts feel like a rare commodity these days, and of course the narrative around ‘fake news’ is deafening in our culture today, so we wanted to lean right into the zeitgeist with humour to break through the noise,” says Republic’s president and CEO, Beverley Hammond, of the campaign strategy.

So what is the goal?: Currently only about 35% of people in Ontario know how the money being collected via the carbon tax is being used, and that a portion goes back to families and businesses as rebates. The goal is to increase awareness by about 10%.

And we quote: “Everyone in the climate change space tends to use fear or anger as the main emotion to try and grab people’s attention, but that can only take you so far. The angle around humour and poking fun at the other side… is very creative but also super impactful.”— Michael Bernstein, executive director of Canadians for Clean Prosperity.




Chris Powell