Military scraps offensive aboriginal recruitment ad

July 31, 2012  |  Canadian Press  |  Comments

A Canadian Forces aboriginal recruiting ad that likened building a canoe to serving on a warship was torpedoed after focus groups found it “offensive to the point of being comical,” says a newly released report.

Groups in Vancouver were so put off by the radio spot, in fact, that a polling firm warned airing it could hurt the military’s reputation.

“Although commentary was at times measured from participants, likely due to awareness of being observed and politeness, body language clearly reinforced the negative reactions among two groups in Vancouver,” says a report completed in March.

“Indeed the degree of offence was deemed to be high, posing a potential risk to the reputation of the Forces were this ad to be released publicly, at least in British Columbia.”

The radio spot was meant to recruit engineers. The pollster’s report does not include a transcript or description of the ad beyond the reaction it elicited, but it apparently featured a young man and his grandfather talking about the similarities between canoe-making and working on a warship.

What’s clear is that the ad rubbed people in Vancouver the wrong way.

“I’m offended by the canoe,” one person told the pollsters. “It’s stereotypical, but in a bad way.”

Said another: “It’s disrespectful to grandfather to say, ‘My canoe is bigger than yours.”’

The comparison between making a canoe and working on a warship left others scratching their heads.

The pollsters suggested it was best to deep-six the ad. “Indeed, many felt that it was offensive to the point of being comical,” the report says.

The Defence Department did not provide a copy or a transcript of the ad, but a spokeswoman said it was not used.

The radio spot was among several recruitment efforts put to aboriginal and non-aboriginal focus groups. The results of that testing were only recently published online.

Other ads fared much better. People seemed to like radio and video testimonials about different military jobs.

Pollsters held six focus groups with aboriginals aged 18 to 34 in Vancouver, Sept-Iles, Que., and Iqaluit. Another six focus groups with the same age group were conducted with non-aboriginals in Vancouver, Sept-Iles and Halifax.

The military has taken great pains to avoid offending any potential new recruits. A “disaster check” done late last year by another research firm sought to ensure recruitment efforts in Cantonese, Mandarin, Punjabi, Tagalog and Urdu did not offend people who speak those languages.

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