Canada makes Keystone XL ad blitz in metro stations near White House

Matthew Coutts
Daily Brew
A screen grab of GoWithCanada.ca

If you have found yourself wandering through a few of the higher-traffic metro stations in Washington, D.C., this month, you may have noticed a welcoming image of friendly Canada laid out for display.

At least two massive takeover advertising campaigns promoting Canada as a preferable oil provider for America have been postered throughout two stations through much of January. The ads portray Canada as the country’s friend and neighbour and remind visitors that the countries have a history of "standing together."

According to the National Post, banners in Washington's Metro Center and Farrugut North stations – both notably close to the White House – depict "idyllic scenes" of Canada and tout "the Great White North as 'America's best energy partner.'" Another banner indicates that Canada is already America's largest oil provider.

The advertisements push passersby to visit GoWithCanada.ca, a government-run website promoting Canada's oil industry. A debate over the Keystone XL pipeline project, which would cut from Alberta south to Texas, is awaiting presidential approval.

"America faces a choice: It can import oil from Canada – a secure and environmentally responsible neighbor that is committed to North American energy independence – or it can choose less stable offshore sources with much weaker environmental standards," the site reads.

See the way "neighbor" is spelled? If it hasn't been made clear in other ways, this is about convincing America to buy into Canada's oil industry.

[ Related: Rep. Senators urge Obama to move on Keystone XL pipeline ]

This is just the latest volley in the public relations battle between Keystone XL supporters, specifically the Canadian government and its adversaries.

Early last year, Canada embarked on a mission to polish its environmental image. It involved a number of U.S. appearances and speeches by Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird. TransCanada also launched a round of television ads that called for the elimination of "America's reliance on foreign energy."

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On the other side of the spectrum, a climate action group released a commercial portraying the Canadian oil industry as a money-hungry huckster. The Sierra Club also released an animation calling Alberta oilsands the "Dirtiest Oil on Earth."

So why are these ads any different? For one, an end to the debate is believed to be on the horizon. U.S. President Barack Obama is still considering whether to support the project, but both sides are getting antsy for a resolution.

John Perenack, a public relations expert with Toronto's StrategyCorp, says that debate is exactly why Canada targeted Washington metro stations with its latest campaign.

"The strategy is to target staffers, politicians and other key influencers who may have a role in approving the Keystone XL pipeline with certain key messages with the hope of shaping the debate in a positive way," he told Yahoo Canada News in an email. "This is not an uncommon tactic."

As for the friendly, collegial tone of the advertisements, Perenack says it is Canada playing up its best angle:

"In a discussion about energy dependence, you can’t escape talking about where that energy is going to come from and the national security aspects that go along with that. So in a world where many energy exporters are seen as uncertain, positioning Canada and its energy through the lens of 'Friends, neighbours, allies' creates a strong contrast to how other foreign countries may be perceived."

We’ll have to wait and see whether the advertising campaign has any impact on Washington’s final decision. But stamping the Canadian flag on metro stations near the White House is a heck of a start. You know the saying about real estate: Location, location, location.

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