Ignoring wasted money

In an age when almost any kind of information is available to anyone who knows how to look for it, you’d think it would be almost impossible that an agency with all the resources of government would fail at getting its message out.

In an age when almost any kind of information is available to anyone who knows how to look for it, you’d think it would be almost impossible that an agency with all the resources of government would fail at getting its message out.

In an age when government seems to know more about you personally than you may be comfortable with them knowing, how could they fail to figure out that they can’t get you on board with their plans?

The answer to both questions can be obtained reading news reports on Canadians’ reactions to the federal government’s costly Economic Action Plan advertising.

It costs $100,000 to put a 30-second ad into TV coverage of this year’s NHL playoffs. At those prices, you’d think government would expect some kind of payoff for placing them. So would taxpayers.

But not only are those ads woefully ineffective, the predominant viewer response to them now reads onto the scale of annoyance.

And therein lies the answers to our questions, or partial answers anyway.

In our information age, it appears that getting a government’s message out regarding its policies and objectives is actually pretty difficult. Especially if the message is more about message than action.

On the Economic Action Plan alone, about $133 million has been spent to convince you of the plan’s merits. But that $133 million worth of advertising is falling on deaf ears.

One report on the government website dedicated to informing Canadians about the plan (www.actionplan.gc.ca) has averaged 12,600 hits a day. But a poll taken in April calling on 2,000 Canadians found only three people who had visited the site.

Curious, I checked out the site myself and found it rather uninformative. I found three tips on tax deductions that I could not use (I haven’t adopted any children; I am not a first-time charitable donor; and I have no caregiver costs to deduct). Any professional tax filing agency would already have that information.

The rest was what news people call “government bumph.”

There, saved you the trouble.

And the last time anyone checked (which was a long time ago), there have been zero calls to the toll-free 1-800-O-Canada phone line, which the ads direct us to use. Operators are still standing by.

Worse, a poll taken last November (and released over the Easter weekend, when fewer people pay attention to the news), shows the all-time lowest approval rate of government performance for the plan — 38 per cent.

Polling on government advertising is mandatory under federal rules. If government is spending our money on advertising, we who pay for it all are entitled to know if the ads work.

The approval rating of respondents has averaged about 43 per cent since the program began in 2009. But as of last September, Canadians’ acceptance of the ads — and their cost — has hit a wall.

So rather than improving the product, the government decided to stop asking for approval rates on the polling they are required by law to do. All they ask now is whether you recall seeing the ads and whether you did anything as a result.

Well, did you and did you? There’s your answer.

It’s not that the government doesn’t want to know we don’t approve of costly ads for programs that have very little effect on employment rates or small business prospects. One ad in the series once promoted a government support program that didn’t even exist.

The government’s own in-house polling knows all that, and more, about our opinions. The uncomfortable questions about our approval have been lifted from the polls because the results must be publicly reported.

They know but they don’t want you to see a report that they know.

It is pretty amazing that telling Canadians about the thousands of new jobs created or the businesses that have prospered because of the Economic Action is so difficult. Maybe because there’s not a whole lot to talk about, considering the money that’s been spent.

But do not believe the government does not want to know if you approve of their spending. They do. They just don’t want to alert you that they know the program isn’t working.

Greg Neiman is a retired Advocate editor. Follow his blog at readersadvocate.blogspot.ca or email greg.neiman.blog@gmail.com.

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