Government advertising doesn't work, except in the way that it does

It probably doesn't matter how many people use the Action Plan website

The Harper government’s advertising barrage seems not to be rallying the general public to action.

But a survey of 2,003 adult Canadians completed in April identified just three people who actually visited the website … Just six per cent of those who said they recalled the TV ads that began running in February this year reported doing anything as a result.

… And among the few people who took action, nine said all they did was complain or “express displeasure” about the 30-second TV spots, dismissed by critics as thinly veiled Conservative propaganda. The poll — mandatory under federal advertising rules — did not report anyone who called the toll-free number shown on screen, 1-800-O-Canada, another explicit goal of the ad campaign.

Of course, this only matters inasmuch as you believe that the ads exist for the purposes of connecting Canadians with the services of their government. A poll conducted a year earlier suggests the ads are quite effective in another regard.

The internal Privy Council Office analysis of the April 2012 post-advertising survey may provide a clue to the Harper government’s continued use of EAP ads. The analysis, obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act, notes that among those who had not seen the ads, 42 per cent approved of the overall performance of the government. But the number rises to 47 per cent among those who had seen the TV spots, a five-percentage-point boost in popularity attributed to the advertising campaign.

As Jim Flaherty (hilariously) explained in May, government advertising exists because “Canadians are entitled to what their government is up to.” And as Lisa Raitt explained last month, of ads for a jobs grant that doesn’t exist yet, “it is important to communicate it to all Canadians so that they can see themselves, or see their own potential, in those commercials.”

In that regard, it’s probably important to note a paragraph further down in CP’s weekend story.

A spokesman for the Finance Department said other surveys show overall awareness of the government’s action plan campaign has risen to a high of 62 per cent this year from a low of 20 per cent in 2009.

So a greater percentage of people than who voted in either of the last two federal elections are aware that the government is doing something. That likely amounts to a resounding success.

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