PSAs and Commercial Spots: University of Alberta - Gold Medal

Category 16: Electronic Media: PSAs and Commercial Spots
University of Alberta, “As Canadians…”

Contact: Geoff McMaster, video producer/assistant editor, Folio, Office of Public Affairs, Sixth Floor General Services Bldg., Edmonton, Alberta, Canada T6G 2H1, Phone: (780) 492-0440, e-mail:

The University of Alberta’s new president, Dr. Indira Samarasekera, outlined her new vision for the university in January 2006 calling for enhanced awareness and reputation of the university in Central Canada, with an emphasis on both quality of teaching and research excellence. According to our last public performance survey, Central Canadians tended not to be aware of Western universities in their thinking, except perhaps the University of British Columbia.

With the Winter Olympics approaching in February, Dr. Samarasekera asked for a national television advertising campaign that highlighted the university as embodying the Olympic ideal in its new “Dare to Discover” ethos (i.e., striving for personal best and serving peace, friendship, and understanding in the world). It was important that the ad make a connection between our institutional pride and Canadian patriotism. In other words, we wanted to showcase the university as one Canadian example of daring, discovery, and achievement at an elite level, while wishing our Olympic athletes all the best.

In planning the campaign, we learned that nine out of 10 Canadians watch some part of the winter Olympics and that the audience cuts across a range of ages and backgrounds. We were interested in reaching prospective students, managers, business owners, and professionals – those most likely to be seeking a top school for their children – as well as those looking for meaningful philanthropic opportunities and academics looking for employment or partnerships. We therefore felt national television advertising was the best way to reach the varied audiences we were targeting.

In early January, Geoff McMaster, of the Office of Public Affairs teamed up with writer and director Michael Kryton of Edmonton’s Idea Factory to produce a 30-second commercial (at a cost of about $14,000, including $3,600 for script and pre-production, $4,800 for production, and $4,680 for post-production). With our key messages and audiences in mind, we subsequently purchased a package with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation – on both the main network and Newsworld – which guaranteed a rotation of at least 244 occasions over the two-week period in February. We employed Governor General Award-winning playwright Vern Thiessen, a former University of Alberta instructor and alumnus, as our host for the ad.

According to the final audience report from CBC, we were able to reach 22 million viewers, considerably more than expected, largely because the anticipated viewership was down for the Olympics overall, and we were allotted bonus spots on the main network to compensate for the shortfall (which worked in our favor several times over).

The response was immediate and enthusiastic from people across Canada, including government officials in Ottawa and communications staff at other post-secondary institutions who said they admired our work and initiative. Media ran more than one story on this relatively new trend of universities advertising nationally, and a representative from the University of Toronto spent half an hour on the phone questioning me about our strategy. Our president continues to receive praise from her counterparts in other parts of the country.