“This ain’t Flint” – When new media campaigns go horribly wrong.

This ain’t Calcutta or Abuja or Port-au-Prince either. So what.
This Ain’t Flint is a campaign developed by Alphabet Creative for Newcap Radio ostensibly to remind the good folks of Ottawa, Canada to stop whining because things are really not that bad – compared to the economic hardship that Flint, Michigan has had to face. The Newcap radio group has put a lot of money and effort into a campaign that includes video, a website, transit ads, and other promotional activities.
We live in one of the best cities in one of the best countries in the world. We are privileged beyond any reasonable measure.  I wish this campaign would go away. I’ve tried to ignore it and the discussion around it for the last couple of weeks. Problem is, it’s hard to ignore. I keep driving by “This Ain’t Flint” transit ads every day. So if I can’t will it away… the next best thing to do is to rate it. Here is how I would score this campaign:
Embarrassment.  10/10 They knocked it out of the park with embarrassment. I have friends and relatives in Michigan and I am ashamed to be associated (geographically) with this campaign. Read a couple US blogs to get a sense for how this campaign is been perceived south of the border. Ouch.
Harmfullness  8/10 . A bit more planning could have given the campaign a higher harm score. This campaign will probably affect tourism, trade or anything else with the good folks in Flint / Michigan / US … frankly anyone who needs a reason to dislike our Nation’s Capital. “Hey honey come here, Ottawa looks real nice compared to Flint… let’s go there this summer.” (Of course this isn’t the intent of the video and campaign… just the outcome.)
Confusion 5/10. Hard to rate this one. The message is absolutely clear (Ottawa isn’t as hard done by as Flint )- so I’d give this part a fail.  But the purpose of the video is a mystery so I’d give the campaign folks full marks for confusion here. What’s the point? I don’t get it. The demonic baby, the strange video, the lack of an obvious audience, or purpose. They didn’t make it to get people to buy more radio ads so what was the purpose?
Creepiness. 10 / 10. The freaky doll was a masterstroke! Nothing picks up the spirits each day like the bus shelter image of a horror movie doll. Bravo!
Lack of Originality. 8  /10. Everyone knows that viral video is all about copying something that has already been done. Kudo’s to the ‘Roger and Me’ treatment in the first half of the video and the shockingly disjoint Ottawa Tourism video in the second half. Although ‘Freaky Doll’ has been done many times before (still a huge ‘Chucky’ fan),  it hasn’t been done in conjunction with an ‘economic optimism’ video before so I had to knock a few marks off  here.
Ballsiness. 9/10. You have to have Kahunas to launch this campaign knowing that uncreative, tree-hugging, left-wing sensitive types will find something to dislike about it. A change of heart – putting the video up on YouTube and then quickly removing it – cost the campaign a perfect score. (Why purposely avoid using the best free social media channel on the  planet?) All comments are good comments right!


9 Responses

  1. Outstanding post!

    I also thought it was interesting that the video says that the “national news reports don’t apply” in Ottawa, which is the nation’s capital. I would have expected this type of comment from Parti Québécois.

    As a US citizen, I was shocked at the comparison, and based upon the comments in the “Flint Today” section of the website I am equally shocked that the Canadian media “are making that comparison every time they use the word ‘recession.'” Of all the reports on economic downturns I’ve heard in the US, never once has Flint, MI been mentioned as an example.

    What’s next? A website called boasting the wonders of Canadian aviation safety? There a lot of material from Farenheit 9/11 that can be repurposed.

    1. This campaign is not, and should not be looked upon as a reflection of the sensibilities of the people of Ottawa. Someone created a campaign designed to get people’s attention. They were successful in that regard but by doing so they embarrassed the city. They made a mistake. Of course the creators can’t / won’t see it that way – such is the nature of the ‘creative process’.

  2. What an odd bit of work this campaign is. Spit on your neighbor to make yourself feel better…hmmmm. Then claim you are boosting positive attitudes. Then, when people complain, issue a blather of a press release claiming you were trying to highlight the “injustice” done to the people of Flint.

    Sloppy work all around and it makes Ottawa look bad. One would think that a large city, serving as the national capitol, would have a few advantages over a neighboring small industrial city undergoing downsizing.

    I suppose Canadians have had plenty of experience with ignorant Americans, so we shouldn’t complain too much when the opposite occurs, but picking on a weakened neighbor is always shabby.

  3. As a resident of Ottawa, my first exposure to this campaign has been from behind the wheel of my car. It confused me. Flint may be a small city near Detroit, but it is also a mineral, a person’s name, and probably many other things besides. The message “THIS AIN’T FLINT” is especially confusing when a burned out doll is the only visible element other than pink asphalt. As embarrassing as this is to Ottawa residents, it also fails as a campaign trying to communicate a clear message. Maybe that’s a good thing in this case.

  4. Jimm
    thanks for jumping on the bandwagon. As a “marketing pro”, it’s interesting that you couldn’t have had at least a different angle. Your points about this affecting tourism and trade are laughable at best. Michigan is a minor tourism market for Ottawa, and I’m sure the number of visitors from Flint over the years could be counted on fingers. Also, you should call Jerry Preston at the Flint Chamber of commerce and ask him – Flint could not have gotten better exposure than this. Also, the positive nature of conversation among its citizens will only illicit positive change in that city – not our intention, but that’s what has happened.

    However, this is all largely irrelevant. Flint is an allegory. Infact, if you take a step back and look at the big picture, Ottawa is even allegorical in this story. The point is that what is happening in the U.S. is not happening here to the same extent. So maybe a simpler way of saying it might be, Canada is not the U.S. – get it now? If there is any mud slinging to be done, then let it be about a wildly unregulated extreme capitalist system in the States, that has failed, and that is responsible for the rug being pulled out from underneath the global economy. Our campaign is about supporting local business, local business supports the local economy, meaning prosperity for all, from businesses to private citizens to charities to arts funding and not-for-profit organizations. Yes, that’s right – businesses are the biggest philanthropists around in case you didn’t know. So the bottom line is – I don’t really care if you don’t like how we do things, it’s like saying you don’t like my sweater – it’s subjective. But if you don’t like what we’re saying, well then best of luck with your business, because if recessionary psychology sets in, then we are truly in for a rough ride.

    BTW – our campaign is an Ottawa only outdoor advertising and radio campaign.

    Tony Lyons, Alphabet Creative

  5. Tony, the campaign offended people in Flint, regardless of your intentions. A small cost by your measure, but still a real outcome.

    If your intent was to communicate that we, as a business and residential community should be optimistic about our prospects, then I think you went about it the wrong way. Are my comments subjective? Of course they are, it’s a blog.

    If I am guilty of ‘jumping on the bandwagon’ in criticizing your campaign then I suppose I’m in good company.

  6. Small people need to prosper at the problems of others.
    The people that wrote this are not honorable, charitable,
    or very moralistic! They are fools! Whatever you throw on
    the waters of life , will surely be returned to you.

  7. Thanks to Tony for clarifying for me how idiotic crap like this gets produced let alone the justifications when it blows chunks back in their faces. Nice tone of sarcasm! I have a better idea of who’s responsible.

    I’m surprised and I guess I shouldn’t be, that an agency was involved. I always picture them sitting around a table and one guy goes “I got it!” The puzzler is how does it get from crappy idea to people buying in and spending money on it??

    Ah well. One of the radio stations here dressed the morning guy in a bear suit and sent him out to buy smack – you know, as a “obviously moral” way for showing how easy it is to score drugs. Again – smart people somehow deciding a crap idea is worth doing…

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