Ethical Oil: framing a debate on an issue

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

One of the most effective political ad campaigns running these days is the "Ethical Oil" campaign being ran in Canada. The group, who's website is, is promoting the development of Canadian oil sands. 

To promote the sale of Canadian oil the concept of Conflict vs Ethical oil was created and used to frame the debate. Rather than focus on the oil itself, the ad campaign concentrates on the differences between the societies that stand to profit from the oil's sale. A series of hot button issues for the left are contrasted: feminism, minority rights, LGBT acceptance, environmentalism and so forth. You can see a slideshow of the entire set at The Globe and Mail.

It is a nifty piece of marketing jiu-jitsu. The images are stark and unmistakably lay out the contrast between Canadian values and the baser values of dictatorships. Further, it forces the debate to be on that ground. To show how effective they are here as attempt at a response to the above Aboriginals ad from Leaf and Steel:
It is certainly true that there are places in the world, like Sudan, where certain ethnic groups have been viciously attacked so that one group can gain control of their land in order to control the oil there (note: things don’t get much better when a company leaves, because that company just sells its lease or whatever to . . . another company). In Canada, things aren’t happening quite so violently, but the Alberta and Canadian governments are being sued over developments that would violate treaties regarding First Nations’ rights.
Huh? Comparing ethnic cleansing to having the ability to file a law suit? That is such a weak and feeble response that it almost qualifies as a non sequitur.

With the above TV ad Ethical Oil has also infuriated the Saudi Arabian government. The ad points out the condition of woman in Saudi Arabia and asks why are we funding their oppression by buying their oil? As the Globe and Mail reports:
In hiring a law firm to complain about an attack ad, the Saudis have thrown oil on the fire.
Mr. Velshi said lawyers from the international law firm Norton Rose LLP sent “cease and desist” letters to the national advertising watchdog, as well as to media companies, warning about potential legal action.

Bell Media, which owns CTV, confirmed it had been informed by the Saudis of a legal dispute over the commercial, and cancelled plans to run it.

“As the ad in question is the subject of a legal dispute between Ethical Oil and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, at the advisement of our legal department we will not accept the order until the matter is resolved,” the company said in a statement.

Mr. Kenney and Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver both condemned the Saudi legal tactic.

“Canada is a country that is a champion of freedom of speech. That is a constitutional right,” the Immigration Minister said.

“And we don’t take kindly to foreign governments threatening directly or indirectly Canadian broadcasters or media for giving voice to freedom of speech. We think that’s inappropriate and certainly inconsistent with Canada’s belief in freedom of speech.”

Mr. Oliver said Canadians don’t “appreciate any attempt by a foreign country to undermine our freedoms.”

Mr. Velshi e-mailed the chair of the Commons foreign affairs committee, asking that the MPs “investigate this brazen attempt by a foreign dictatorship to censor” what appears on Canadian television. The chair, Conservative MP Dean Allison, promised to consider the request.
In spite of the cease and desist letters, Ethical Oil has continued to run the ads.

I've talked before about Conservatives allowing the left to frame the parameters of a debate. The Ethical Oil campaign is an example of just how powerful framing can be. The discussion has shifted from the usual Green bagaboos about carbon and oil spills to what type of society you want your money to go to. 

This is what I mean by the need for Republicans to reject and ignore the framing of MSM "gotcha" questions and to talk about issues in the terms they view those issues. The Ethical Oil people didn't spend their time losing a wonkish argument on oils spills -- instead they demanded that, in terms of what's right, you to put your money where your mouth is. They framed the debate. 

The Republicans  shouldn't waste their air time politely answering inane, leading questions -- they should use their airtime to state their case. Frame the debate.


OMMAG said...

Just wait till we get the link to the Sun TV commentary on this issue!!

ambisinistral said...

I keep checking your blog -- they haven't posted it yet?