Come for the exorbitant prices; stay because you've got no other choice.
That's the promise of Way North Foods, a grocery chain touting itself as "The home of high prices" in a new online ad campaign.
The unlikely slogan belongs to a fake store dreamed up by Calgary-based advertising agency Wax, which is hoping that the videos will start a conversation about high food prices in Canada's North. The agency is working with Feeding Our Families, a Facebook group focused on grassroots protest among Northerners to encourage government, policy makers and food suppliers to improve the availability of food at reasonable prices in the region. For about a year, it has been working on this pro bono campaign to trigger people to share the videos and to raise awareness of the issue online and on social media. (Many ad agencies do some pro bono work on the side as a type of corporate philanthropy, and to stretch their legs creatively by working on different types of problems.)
The videos are a parody of the cheesy jingles, low production values and wooden acting so often seen in ads for small, local grocery stores: The creative team at Wax combed through YouTube researching the genre.
The Way North videos tout "high prices you won't find anywhere else," with rudimentary graphics of prices being slashed – and replaced by much higher figures.
The campaign website provides facts about food prices in the North, and suggestions that people discuss the issues on social media, donate money to a food bank in the North or write to their members of Parliament on the subject.
"There are a lot of nuances to this issue. We don't have the answers. We're just a bunch of ad guys," said Trent Burton, creative director at Wax. "We just want people to start having a conversation."
On average, people in Nunavut pay roughly double what people in the rest of Canada pay for their food, according to a survey conducted by the Nunavut Bureau of Statistics, which last March compared prices of 135 items with average prices from Statistics Canada's consumer price index. A bag of white flour, for example, costs more than $13 in Nunavut compared to roughly $5 on average elsewhere. Nunavut residents could expect to pay more than $6 for a kilogram of carrots compared to roughly $2 in the rest of Canada.
"I live in Iqaluit and even our prices here are not as ridiculous as in some other communities," said Sileema Igutsak Angoyuak, a member of the Feeding Our Families group. She recently posted photos on the group's Facebook page of a grocery trip she took while visiting family in Pond Inlet on the northern end of Baffin Island. The store was charging $12.39 for a 227-gram bag of sugar snap peas, $6.15 for a cucumber and $12.39 for a head of cauliflower. "I was blown away," she said. "I have family in Pond Inlet, and even with two incomes combined … they have to make a decision between healthy food and non-healthy food that is much cheaper."
While residents can combat the problem by turning to mail-order services where it's possible to buy in bulk, those services are less accessible in more remote communities, she added. And low-income consumers cannot make such large purchases at one time; many are on social assistance that provides vouchers for local stores, where prices are high.
Nutrition North Canada, a program launched in 2011 by Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, was supposed to subsidize the cost of delivering perishable foods to northern communities. Critics, including those in the Facebook group, say the program is not working and that lower prices are not trickling down to consumers. In 2014, Auditor-General Michael Ferguson found that government oversight of the program was insufficient.
"We created a fake grocery store but used real prices," said Brad Connell, art director at Wax. A Family Foods grocery store in Calgary donated its space for the shoot, agency Six Degrees audio provided its services, such as the fake jingle and other audio, for free, as did production agency Joe Media. One professional actor donated his time. The rest of the people in the video are Wax employees. It's running online only.
"Fifteen years ago we couldn't have done a campaign like this in the same way," Mr. Burton said. "We want to get that conversation rolling."
Too often, Ms. Angoyuak says, the conversation goes in the wrong direction.
"I have been asked that many times, why we live up here, why not move down south," she said. "… We have poverty in Canada, in the North. Hardly anyone understands it. What I want them to understand is, it's not as easy as getting up and moving. It's our home."