Tory anti-pot ad mocked and condemned by YouTube viewers

If you go by viewership numbers alone, the Conservative government's latest attempt to alert parents to the purported dangers of teen pot use is fast becoming a YouTube sensation. But before the (non-alcoholic) champagne starts flowing at Health Canada, officials might want to read the comments.

'Not a fan of pot, but this ad is just stupid,' a viewer writes as Health Canada ad gets panned

Health Canada's latest anti-drug ad is being roundly mocked by YouTube viewers, some who have referred to it as government propaganda. (Youtube/Healthy Canadians (Health Canada) channel)

If you go by the viewership numbers alone, the Conservative government's latest attempt to alert Canadian parents to the purported dangers of teen pot use is fast becoming a YouTube sensation.

The 30-second ad, which was posted to the video-sharing network last month as part of a multi-platform ad campaign, is currently on track to surpass 200,000 views.

    The video has already blasted past the previous record for the department's official YouTube channel — just over 110,000 viewers and counting for a stylistically and thematically similar ad launched as part of the same campaign, which targeted teen prescription drug abuse.

    To put those numbers in perspective, most of the other videos posted under the Healthy Canadians moniker have viewership numbers in the low to mid-hundreds.

    At least some of the credit for that six-figure audience should almost certainly go to Reddit, where a thread devoted to the ad has spawned more than 400 comments of its own since it was posted on Wednesday. 

    But before the celebratory (non-alcoholic) champagne starts flowing in the Health Canada boardroom, the creative team responsible for the video might want to scan the YouTube comment thread.

    A sampling:

    • "As a Canadian taxpayer, I'm highly offended that my money contributed to this mass disinformation, which amounts to nothing more than scare tactics. It's time for the government to drop the political motives that are clearly behind these types of messages about drugs, and instead embrace an opinion that is based on public health."
    • "What a weak argument - '300 - 400% stronger than it was 30 years ago'. Now you only have to smoke a half joint, instead of 3 joints like you did 30 years ago! Weak! I want my tax money back!"
    • "Listening to this commercial can seem harmless, but it can cause serious damage to a teen’s developing brain."
    • "I used to think marijuana was bad, till I saw this commercial. Now I've concluded adults are liars."
    • "I don't smoke cannabis, but it's disgraceful knowing my tax money is being wasted on propaganda. How about some sources?" 
    • "Is this the same advertisement that the College of Physicians refused to support?"

    "Not a fan of pot, but this ad is just stupid," concluded a user going by the handle Antphetamines.

    The video has also garnered more than 2,500 "thumbs down" via the YouTube user-ranking system, with just over 100 viewers giving it a "thumbs up."

    Despite the negative comments and reviews, Health Canada could still deem the campaign a success, at least as far as the sheer number of eyeballs the ad has reached over the three weeks the video has been up. 

    But the decision to open the video for seemingly unfiltered audience reaction illustrates one of the perils of launching a two-way conversation as part of a public awareness campaign: namely, that there's a very good chance people may take you up on the invitation to talk back.

    IQ claim questioned

    In some cases, that may include a bit of crowdsourced fact-checking.

    Several commenters linked to a recent Washington Post article on recent scientific studies that appear to debunk the theory that marijuana lowers IQ, as suggested in the ad.

    The political overtones did not go unnoticed either:

    • "God, this really does play like a covert attack ad on [Liberal Leader] Justin Trudeau," wrote PhillipRottingham. "Our tax dollars at work everyone!"
    • "'A message from the Government of Canada' Aka Harper," noted Cody Vandermeer. "The guy that doesn't want Trudeau in power. Lol."
    • "For serious tho, i'm voting Liberal so they wont make anymore ads like this," pledged neverdieyet.
    • "They've finally done it," noted Alex Hill. "Someone has created an advertisement so brainless and pathetic, YouTube comments have stood up to be the voice of reason."

    The ad does have its defenders:

    • "Thank you for informing the public on the dangerous of cannabis use," wrote Samuel Stringman, whose signature notes that he is a "card carrying member of the Conservative Party of Canada." 
    • "Smoking cannabis damages the lungs and can cause brain abnormalities, especially in youth. Thankfully, PM Harper has taken a hard line on cannabis and is not going to let Justin Trudeau pollute our schools with this psychotropic drug." 
    • "Is it really a bad thing for the Canadian government to want to produce outstanding contributors to their communities and society?" wondered MrCawffeh.

    The government's anti-drug social media outreach effort extends beyond YouTube.

    The @HealthyCdns Twitter account has also been actively engaged in promoting the videos, as has the department Facebook page, where the anti-pot spot has also gotten mixed reviews in the comment section. The campaign has even landed on Pinterest.

    "The evidence is clear that when youth smoke marijuana, there is an increased risk of mental health issues, such as psychosis and schizophrenia," Health Canada spokesman Sean Upton told CBC News.

    "After completion of any campaign and as per usual government practice, we conduct surveys with Canadians to look at recall and awareness levels, as well as evaluate the ads' overall effectiveness."


    Kady O'Malley covered Parliament Hill for CBC News until June, 2015.