Well, this is shocking: government advertising that’s actually kinda fun

With a few notable exceptions, government advertising tends to be a bit, well, governmental: overly utilitarian and safe, with any rough edges sanded down in an attempt to appease both supporters and detractors.

Which makes sense, since it’s typically conveying important information about programs, policies, etc., with no real reason, to create ads masquerading as entertainment.

“While commercial advertising attracts interest through pleasure and popular discourse, political advertising remains wedded to information,” wrote Margaret Scammell and Ana Inés Langer in a 2006 study entitled Political advertising: Why is it so boring?

“The persuasive strategies of political and commercial advertising are marked as much by dissimilarity as by similarity, the former aiming at plausibility and the latter at pleasure.”

But the recent “The Future is Electric” campaign from the Government of Ontario is a little, shall we say, “shocking” in its willingness to break with government advertising orthodoxy.

While the creative isn’t particularly zany or outrageous, it does possess a distinctly consumer marketing sensibility that makes it more watchable than most government advertising. (And any work that eschews visuals of government ministers and hard-hatted workers/lab coat-wearing medical researchers, etc. is fine by us.)

The English and French ads promoting the government’s investment in EV technology began airing about a month ago. The dialogue-free spots, presented as both a :30 and :15, consists of shots of people going about their daily life, except their hair looks as if they’ve just stepped away from the Ontario Science Centre’s Van de Graff generator (ie: the ball that makes your hair stand on end).

The payoff comes with a man whose hair is normal… until he reads about the government’s continuing investment in EVs. “[T]he overarching goal was to create unconventional work that doesn’t feel like typical government or PSA-style advertising,” said Ryan Huber, managing director, marketing and creative strategy, Cabinet Office Communications, with the Government of Ontario.

The TV and cinema spot is part of a broader communications strategy around the changes happening in the province as a result of what Huber described as “the electric vehicle and battery revolution,” which is connecting mines and minerals from Ontario’s far north with automotive and electric vehicle battery manufacturing in Southern Ontario.

The media plan also includes targeted digital, print and out of home detailing the employment and economic benefits of  the changes in the province’s economy.

The goal, he said, was for the creative to come as a “surprise” to viewers. “It’s no secret that people are predisposed to ignore, or worse, reject government marketing, so we’ve challenged ourselves to circumvent typical government advertising tropes to get our message across in a fresh, breakthrough way.”

The shift towards this approach was also on display earlier this year with “The Rabbit Hole,” a 30-second spot showing a woman going down an internet rabbit hole trying to find an answer to her query, “How to tell if I have pink eye?” (see it below). Set to a club land version of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive,” the spot debuted during the Super Bowl, where it held its own against the big brand ads that tend to characterize the telecast.

Both ads were created by Rethink, marking its first work for the provincial government. Media for the campaign was handled by Carat.

“When we found out the sheer size of the investments the province was securing in electric vehicles and batteries, we were really surprised,” said Rethink’s group strategy director Crystal Sales of the latest campaign. “And we thought, what if we could show this excitement, this feeling, in a way that was simple, intriguing, and memorable? Seeing everyday people that had been figuratively ‘electrified’ by reading the news became our solution.”

Chris Powell