'Action plan' TV ads landing with a thud for many Canadians: internal survey

OTTAWA – Slick television ads this year for the Harper government’s “economic action plan” appear to be inspiring a lot of, well, inaction.

A key measure of the ads’ impact is whether viewers check out, the web portal created in 2009 to promote the catch-all brand.

But a survey of 2,003 adult Canadians completed in April identified just three people who actually visited the website.

The Harris-Decima poll for the Finance Department also delivered some of the worst results among nine viewer-reaction surveys commissioned since the action plan ads were launched for the pivotal 2009 budget.

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.

That’s the worst result for follow-up action of any survey. The best was an August 2009 survey that found 25 per cent of respondents saying they took advantage of a temporary home renovation subsidy.

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.

Harris-Decima also asked: “How would you rate the overall performance of the Government of Canada,” the same question asked in the other eight surveys.

Previous results from 2009 to 2012 showed an average of 43 per cent of respondents rating the government from good to excellent. The latest survey found only 38 per cent giving a positive endorsement, a trough hit only once before, in 2010.

Other questions about providing information or communicating effectively also produced relatively poor grades.

The telephone survey was conducted between March 19 and April 3, with the margin of error at plus or minus 2.2 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

The Canadian Press obtained the $29,000 poll under the Access to Information Act.

Other surveys have found Canadians increasingly bored and annoyed by the action plan branding on TV, radio, newspapers and online, to say nothing of the ubiquitous signage at federally supported building sites across the country.

The government has already spent about $113 million on action plan promotion in the last four years, and in May issued a tender for more such ads over the next year, and perhaps running to 2016.

Finance Department action plan polling has so far cost taxpayers $330,000.

The 30-second TV spots that appeared February-to-April showed workers building a plane, a car and a ship while a narrator refers to apprenticeship grants, student loans and innovative research. They were a rerun of ads from last fall.

“Total partisan bunk,” said Liberal MP Scott Brison, the party’s chief critic of the ads, some of which he said cost nearly $100,000 for 30 seconds of airtime during this year’s NHL playoffs.

“This has been a gross failure in terms of value for tax dollars,” Brison said in an interview from Cheverie, N.S.

“The ads ought to be paid for by the Conservative Party of Canada, not by the Canadian taxpayer who derives no benefit from them.”

The NDP’s Mathieu Ravignat said he’s not surprised the info-light ads — which he called propaganda — are getting little traction.

“They’re creating apathy rather than actually engaging citizens, and that’s because they have really no important content,” he said from Quyon, Que.

“They’re a bad investment.”

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.

Jack Aubry also said traffic to the action plan website increased markedly during the winter campaigns — which included TV, radio, print and online ads — to 12,600 visits each day from a baseline of 2,300.

The department said it could not yet provide final costs for the winter TV ads.

On the web, the TV ad that was the focus of the survey is: