University of Saskatchewan study shows union ads can breed resentment

New research shows when labour unions attempt to market themselves, advertising meant to encourage support actually pushes people away.

Research looking at private and public sector union advertising first of its kind.

Dionne Pohler is an Assistant Professor of Public Policy at the University of Saskatchewan. (Josh Lynn/CBC)

A new University of Saskatchewan study shows that when labour unions try to garner support through advertising, often they may be pushing people away.

Dionne Pohler, an assistant professor of public policy at the U of S, and Barb Phillips, a professor of marketing, looked at how unions go about marketing themselves. A topic they found has been little researched.

"There's a massive literature on corporate advertising and other types of ... advertising, but there's virtually nothing that's been done on union advertising," Pohler said during an interview on CBC's Saskatoon Morning.  

Pohler said that as far as she knows, the study that she and Phllips conducted is the first of its kind. 

They found that unions often focus more on marketing during periods of conflict, to their detriment.

"A lot of unions .. advertise predominately during strikes or when governments are trying to implement policies that [the unions] perceive to be anti-labour," Pohler said.  

Pohler said these ads often come across like "attack ads" that are more likely to leave the general public with negative impressions and reinforce misconceptions about the collective bargaining process.

 "The vast majority of collective agreements get settled without strikes," Pohler said.

However, Phillips and Pohler's research found that in other areas, unions are doing well when it comes to marketing.

"They do depict a lot of different types of people in their ads, a diversity of people," Pohler said.  "And they are doing a lot of ... [advertising] around racism and health care and a lot of things people in the general public care about."