TOWHEY: Canada should spend its ad dollars at home



Mark Towhey Published: February 7, 2020

As a Canadian TV watcher, I am not permitted to see U.S. commercials during the Super Bowl broadcast — Canadian ads must be inserted in their place.

Canadian broadcasters are required to produce and air a minimum percentage of Canadian content on their channels. Now, federal regulators want to extend a similar Canadian content rule to cover foreign streaming services that sell to Canadian consumers.

But, when the federal government increased its advertising spend before the last election to almost $59 million — to reach Canadian citizens, in Canada, with Canadian messages — it spent most of those hard-earned Canadian tax dollars on American media platforms.

Something doesn’t seem right.

When the government of Canada buys advertising to tell you how well it’s doing, or who qualifies for a disaster benefit, or how to access parental leave benefits, or who you should vote for in the next election, it overwhelmingly chooses to buy that advertising on Google, Facebook and other international gigantic social media services. This, according to the government’s own Annual Report on Government of Canada  Advertising Activities, released recently. Facebook alone accounts for 71% of Ottawa’s spend on digital advertising. Only a fraction of the government’s advertising budget is spent on Canadian-owned media platforms, digital or otherwise.

Meanwhile, many Canadian media organizations are struggling to survive for want of advertising dollars. Canadian platforms that reach the same Canadian audiences Google, Facebook and social media do. This is not just “old” print, radio and TV vs. “new” digital media. All these Canadian platforms have digital offerings as well. But the government doesn’t support them. When you read about a big crime in your local community or a political scandal rocking your provincial government — you may do so on Facebook or Google. Search engines and social media platforms create a convenient “menu” of news stories you’re interested in.

But, when you click through that menu, chances are the story you’re reading was discovered, investigated, written, edited, produced and published by journalists working for a Canadian newspaper, broadcaster, online news site or blog. Facebook and Google sell ads around those same stories — on their menus. The government of Canada pays them for those ads. Little or none of that money — your tax dollars — goes to the journalists or news organizations that did the work to produce the story. It’s like paying $10 for a Greek salad in a downtown restaurant and finding out the entire $10 goes to the guy who printed the menu — with none to the restaurant, the chef or the serving staff. Canadian news organizations also sell advertising — advertising that supports the very real costs of producing the content that gets listed on the big foreign menus. Advertising that gets seen by every Canadian who reads the story — whether they found it on a menu or not. But for some inexplicable reason, Ottawa buys very little of it.

If Canada’s government wants to reach Canadians, it should stop buying ads on foreign menus — Google, Facebook, etc. — and start buying ads on the Canadian media platforms that created the content. Governments at every level in Canada should spend the bulk of their advertising dollars on Canadian media platforms that reach Canadian audiences.

If not, then I want Doritos and Budweiser ads back on the Super Bowl broadcast.

Media Mayor Inc.

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