There’s an ad playing in movie theatres as part of the pre-feature entertainment we’ve come to accept. I saw it before Brave, the latest Pixar offering our family saw as part of our younger daughter’s birthday celebrations a few weeks ago.

The ad features a series of visuals and assertions about what makes Canada great. The visuals include the Canadarm, the building of the railway, snow capped mountains, a horse plough team, the building of the CN Tower, etc… accompanied by statements like “when faced with adversity, Canadians look for a way, not a way out.” It was inspiring the audience to be part of the great story of Canada. As a father, I began imagining what my own daughters might achieve.

Then, something jarring happened. It yanked me out of that inspired moment.

The inspiration turned into a sales pitch; the idea into propaganda. The beautiful archives and stock footage became computer imagery accompanied by “So, when noone thought it was possible to unlock the potential in the oil sands…” The audience began to stir and murmur. Some people laughed out loud. Others moaned.

It turned out the second half of the ad systematically undid everything the first half did so well. The ad went from sharing an inspired moment with Canadians to spewing talking points at the now-trapped audience.

Cenovus has posted the ad to YouTube, though they’ve disabled embedding. So, you’ll have to click here to watch the video.

The concept of the ad was brilliant. The execution was a disaster. The comments posted to the video on YouTube reflect that.

Consider the masters of inspiring ads. Apple and Nike know how to inspire people and sell products without a sales pitch. They explore an idea people want to be a part of, and simply attach their name to it. They remind us of our individual potential and that what each of us does matters — and they do it in a way that suggests what they do matters. They sell the idea, not the product or the company. The product sells itself. The company earns respect.

Apple and Nike succeed because they know who they want to reach, they speak human and (more importantly) they know when to stop talking. Public affairs teams can learn a lot from that approach.

Featured photo: Downed Stop Sign uploaded to Flickr by Jeffrey Beal.