'We screwed up,' Alberta admits after using British beach photo in ads

The government of Alberta is apologizing for using a photo of a British beach in an ad to promote the land-locked province.

The government of Alberta is apologizing for using a photo of a British beach in an ad to promote the land-locked province.

A picture featuring two blond children running on a beach in England's Northumberland region appears as part of a new $25-million campaign to promote Alberta.

The photo was never meant to imply it was showing the province, officials insisted on Thursday, but a public backlash led the public affairs bureau to post an apology on the provincial government's blog that afternoon.

"We all knew that every single image we put out to represent Alberta had to be of Alberta, or we would be roasted," wrote David Sands, a government employee. "Then we screwed up.… We're sorry."

The online poster, which showed the kids on Bamburgh Beach under the tagline "Alberta. Freedom to Create. Spirit to Achieve," has been removed from government sites, but the image appears for about five seconds in an online promotional video that is still available.

Premier Ed Stelmach said Friday that he's still proud of the rebranding campaign and that the photo was intended to represent global concerns.

"It's more broad than Alberta ... because we do care, not only about Alberta environment but the world," he said.

"I'm not a marketer, but children, you know, two children, that's our future … — no matter where they live. Should they be Alberta children? Well then, let's have them Alberta children — but children, no matter where they are around the world, they are the next generation. And air quality, water quality, no matter where we live on this big globe, we're all responsible, and that's the message we're trying to portray."

'Most lame spin ever'

On Thursday, Tourism Minister Cindy Ady said there were thousands of Alberta pictures that could have been used but the photo from England adds an international flavour to the campaign and shows the province is engaged with the world.

"Most lame spin ever," said Alberta NDP Leader Brian Mason, slamming the government for not using a picture from Alberta, especially since the province has scenic vistas of its own.

"How hard would it have been for them to go out for a drive and found a beautiful place in Alberta and some lovely children that they could have used? If that's the image they want to create, that's great, but, you know, it should be Alberta kids, and it should be real Alberta scenery, and the failure to do that, I think, just smacks of laziness."

The new $25 million campaign was put together by Edmonton communications firm Calder Bateman and the Alberta Public Affairs Bureau. Launched in late March, it replaced the old "Alberta Advantage" campaign and is intended to counter the province's image as the home of the oilsands, which have come under increasing attack by environmentalists around the world.

Alberta towns with beaches miffed

Mayors of some Alberta towns with beaches wondered why their areas were passed over for a British locale.

"It's baffling why they missed the beauty of our beaches in Alberta. It's an outdoor playground. There's lots to promote here," said Karina Pillay-Kinnee, mayor of Slave Lake, 250 kilometres north of Edmonton. She said Slave Lake has campgrounds, white sandy beaches, world-class walleye fishing, quadding and snowmobiling.

The British photo came to light when an Edmonton man emailed the province to find out where the beach was located. His story was then featured in a column in the Edmonton Journal on Thursday.

British media picked up the story on Friday, with the BBC comparing the two regions, noting that Northumberland is famous for clog dancing while Alberta is known for "rodeo festivals." The Daily Telegraph pointed out that while both areas rely on tourism, visitors to Northumberland enjoy steady temperate weather, while Alberta's climate swings from 40 C in summer to –54 C in winter.

With files from The Canadian Press