By Kelly Cryderman and Jason Fekete, Calgary Herald
About one-third of Albertans say they're familiar with a branding strategy released in early 2009 meant to push back against negative images of the oilsands and portray the province as diverse, a good place to invest and an environmentally aware provider of energy, according to the Alberta government's own survey.
Another 26 per cent of respondents said they "vaguely recall seeing" the brand -- which features "Alberta" written out with stylized letters and the slogan "Freedom to create. Spirit to achieve."
Forty-three per cent said they had not seen it before.
Lee Funke, managing director of the Alberta government's Public Affairs Bureau, said he's pleased that the number of Albertans who had "some level of recall of the brand" totalled 57 per cent. He said it's encouraging more than half of Albertans recognize the province's new brand and motto -- which cost about $3.7 million to develop -- given that it has only been around since March 2009.
"It takes years to build up brand recognition," he said, noting the government has been more focused on fighting anti-oilsands campaigns than pushing the new brand.
The new slogan doesn't roll off the tongue quite as easily as the Alberta Advantage, a rallying cry long ago developed for the province's department of Economic Development but one that unofficially became the catchphrase for the entire province.
As for "Freedom to create. Spirit to achieve," even Tory MLAs have had difficulty remembering it, but Funke said the province is sticking with it.
Haskayne School of Business marketing professor Debi Andrus said even at 57 per cent, the knowledge of the branding strategy is low. She said as a start, the government needs to promote it more heavily.
"A brand is about making sure that we're seeing it and hearing it," Andrus said.
She noted the slogan itself is not bad. "I personally prefer one sentence rather than using two. But I believe the message is a really good message."
However, Wildrose Alliance party Leader Danielle Smith maintains the new Alberta slogan doesn't resonate with people, it's "clunky" and hard to remember. "It doesn't mean anything to anybody," Smith said.
"Nobody was asking for a change to the brand, what people were asking for was for the government to actually live up to the expectations of the Alberta Advantage."
Promoting Alberta's tourism and investment opportunities is a good thing, Smith added. However, she said the current marketing strategy is unfocused, and it's unclear who it's aimed at.
Speaking in Calgary this week, Premier Ed Stelmach said there's still work to do on Alberta's branding strategy. "It's all moving in the right direction. This is a marathon, it's not a sprint."
The premier said Albertans are, like the government, upset by outsiders being so critical of the province's handling of its oilsands resources.
"This is an attack on Alberta. It's not only an attack on the oilsands. And Albertans are being a little bristled with what they've been hearing."
The $3.7 million the Alberta government spent on developing the brand is part of an overall campaign to market Alberta. It was supposed to cost $25 million over three years. However, the overall plan is coming in under budget and will cost just under $15 million.
Funke said the strategy includes not only the branding, but also "reputation management" initiatives including advertising that counters negative oilsands messages.
He added the province has only used a soft launch on the branding campaign, and hasn't yet made a "significant investment" in marketing it to Albertans and the world. He said more importantly, 78 per cent of people surveyed by the government agree with the province's approach to branding Alberta.
The government survey was conducted online between March 18-24, 2010, and was completed "by a broad sample of Alberta residents." It showed respondents the branding and slogan image, and asked whether the depiction was "very familiar to you; familiar; do you vaguely recall seeing it; or have you not seen it before?"