mtl-asbestos-parody

A parody ad featured in an Australian reality TV show welcomes people to the Quebec town of Asbestos. ((ABCTV/YouTube))

It's tough to attract people to your town when its name reminds them of cancer.

But one of Canada's last remaining asbestos-mining towns is getting international attention from a popular Australian TV reality show that's aiming to help out — sort of.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation show The Gruen Transfer asked two advertising executives to design video ads for the town of Asbestos, Que.

"It is all done in good fun," said Peter Richie, a spokesman for the show.

In the segment, host Wil Anderson asks one of the ad executives if there was ever a moment when he considered the task of attracting tourists to Asbestos impossible.

"There were several," Ron Samuel replied dryly.

Samuel's Asbestos ad shows suave and elegantly dressed men wearing nametags with the names of cities such as "New York," "Paris" and "Rome" courting women in a speed-dating session.

Then a man with the nametag "Asbestos" appears, looking pale and wearing a beige windbreaker.

The woman seated with him arches her eyebrows at his nametag and dons a gas mask.

The ad ends with generic scenes of pristine Canadian mountains and a tongue-in-cheek message.

"Great relationships are built on truth," the narrator says.

"And the truth is, we don't have a very attractive name. So, spend some time online with us first, and you'll see what makes people like you fall in love with a town like us."

Use of asbestos controversial

Asbestos has been linked to cancer, and international critics want Canada to stop extracting the building material, which is mainly exported to developing countries that still use it widely.

Proponents, however, say Quebec asbestos, known as "chrysotile," is perfectly safe when handled properly.

Samuel says his ad refers to "online" research because studies show people usually use the internet to inspect possible travel destinations.

'We would be happy to welcome tourists to tell them the truth about who we are.' — Alain Roy, Asbestos town councillor

The second series of ads, from another agency, runs signs from other places with potentially off-putting monikers: Dildo, N.L., Accident, Md., Puke, Albania, and Boring, Ore.

"Don't let our name put you off," the ad coos.

"Bienvenue à Asbestos: Bad name. Great destination."

The show got the idea for the segment after producers saw an interview in a British newspaper with an Asbestos town councillor who suggested the name of the town name might scare some people off.

"We would be happy to welcome tourists to tell them the truth about who we are," Alain Roy told The Guardian.

No comment from mayor

Asbestos Mayor Hugues Grimard didn't want to comment immediately because he hadn't seen the segment but said he was going to check it out.

Asbestos is the site of one of the world's largest open-pit asbestos mines. The city's website plugs several tourist attractions such as a golf course and a music camp.

It also highlights a recreation trail in the mine, showing pictures of people aboard all-terrain vehicles scooting past the site, as well as a mineral museum where people can see and touch rock specimens from the mine.

Some reactions to a clip from the Asbestos segment of The Gruen Transfer appeared on the show's website.

"I'd like to see Australian sacred cows being the subject of these ad challenges," said one poster identified as ParArdua. "Let's stick to ourselves and stop behaving like Americans."

The prize for the challenge, contained in the show's weekly segment called "The Pitch," is jokingly revealed to be a trophy made from Louisiana seabirds.

According to the show's website, the term Gruen transfer is used in shopping mall design to describe "that split second when the mall's intentionally confusing layout makes our eyes glaze and our jaws slacken... the moment when we forget what we came for and become impulse buyers." It is named for the architect of the first shopping mall, Victor Gruen.