Pattison Outdoor has denied Greenpeace Canada the space on one of its billboards in downtown Edmonton – and handed the activist group a much bigger free PR opportunity.
On Friday, the company, which owns billboards and other ad space on public transit and in malls and airports, advised Greenpeace Canada that it had rejected its ad about oil spills in Alberta.
Greenpeace had booked the billboard space earlier in the week and submitted the design on Wednesday. Pattison rejected it two days later without giving the organization its reasons for doing so.
The bright yellow billboard design included black text that read "When there's a huge solar energy spill, it's just called a nice day. Green jobs, not more oil spills."
The ad was a response to the recent oil spill near the town of Sundre, Alta. It was designed to draw attention to the problem of oil spills, and to encourage premier Alison Redford to appoint an independent body to investigate the safety of the province's oil pipelines, said Mike Hudema, a climate and energy campaigner with Greenpeace Canada in Alberta. A recent study conducted by Saskatchewan's provincial auditor found problems in that province with enforcing regulations over pipeline safety.
"It's something that unfortunately is a recurring theme here in the province," Mr. Hudema said. "We have aging pipeline infrastructure."
The billboard was booked to go up this Sunday, June 24, and run for a week, at the corner of Jasper Avenue and 106 St. NW in downtown Edmonton. It would have cost Greenpeace $2,800 for the week, plus tax, Mr. Hudema said.
When contacted for comment, Pattison Outdoor vice-president of marketing Joe Donaldson explained that the company often does not comment when asked for reasons behind such decisions, and pointed out that Pattison is a privately-held company. The firm is Canada's largest out-of-home advertising company, and is owned by Vancouver-based Jim Pattison Group.
"Pattison's official statement is 'no comment'," Mr. Donaldson wrote in a follow-up e-mail. Mr. Donaldson did not respond when asked whether anything in Greenpeace's account was incorrect.
Greenpeace has had its ads rejected in the past. Last year it ran an online campaign for supporters to design ads spoofing a campaign by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) to promote the oil sands. It announced the winner in May, 2011 and plastered posters of the ad around Ottawa. An attempt to buy space for the ad in bus shelters was rejected by Clear Channel Outdoor, said Greenpeace climate and energy campaign co-ordinator Keith Stewart.
Last year's rejection was understandable because it attributed a quote to Prime Minister Stephen Harper that he did not say, Mr. Stewart said, but he added that rejections are relatively rare because Greenpeace does not like to spend money designing ads if they will not see the light of day.
Pattison has accepted Greenpeace ads in the past. In 2009, it ran a billboard that took its inspiration from a well-publicized series of bus ads run by an atheist group declaring "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life." Greenpeace's version read, "There's probably no cod. Now let's stop overfishing & think of the future."
Greenpeace has deliberately courted controversy through its advertising in the past. In 2010, the U.K. branch of the organization attracted attention for a graphic online ad that accused candy producers of killing wildlife through their use of palm oil in products. It spoofed Kit Kat's "Have a break" commercials.
Getting an ad rejected can often be the fastest route to greater publicity, which is why companies often take advantage of the buzz around the SuperBowl to claim their ads were banned from the broadcast. Ashley Madison, a dating website for people who want to cheat on their spouses, and Web-domain registering service and lowest-common-denominator advertiser GoDaddy.com have used this strategy more than once. Their ads often include elements that would normally have little chance of passing broadcast standards.
But Greenpeace's Mr. Hudema says the organization was surprised its ad was rejected, given the relatively tame content of the billboard design. The "solar energy spill" line has appeared on billboards elsewhere: it was originally created for the Vote Solar initiative, which gave Greenpeace their blessing to re-use it. Mr. Hudema is hoping that its rejection will spark further discussion.
"We are encouraging people to circulate the ad," he said. "If Pattison doesn't want to run it we can at least get the awareness out."